From death’s door to People magazine for Loxahatchee flu girl

A Loxahatchee girl featured in the Palm Beach Post after nearly dying of the flu is now featured in People Magazine.

Jenny Spell came forward to tell her harrowing story to encourage people to get the flu vaccine. The 18-year-old  ended up on an ECMO heart-lung machine for five days in the fall of 2014 and eventually had to have a kidney transplant.

She is now enrolled at the University of Florida in the fall to study pre-pharmacy. People Magazine covered her graduation from King’s Academy.

“Jenny and I were happy to have had an opportunity to speak to People about her story,” her mother, Anne Spell, said.

“She faced tremendous suffering with both resilience and faith, and I am very proud of her. Together, she and I hope that her story will make a life-saving difference in the lives of others through flu vaccination and organ donation awareness.”

 

The teenager spent 241 days — about two-thirds of a year — at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital after going into cardiogenic shock, meaning the heart can’t pump enough blood to sustain your body. Her organs started failing one by one. Liver. Pancreas. Gall bladder. Kidneys. She contracted a deadly fungal infection and suffered an aneurysm in her abdomen.

“Jenny was the sickest patient I’ve ever cared for with the flu and probably one of the sickest patients I’ve ever cared for,” said Dr. Gerald Lavandosky, managing director at Pediatric Critical Care of South Florida at Joe DiMaggio.

To read the Palm Beach Post’s feature on Jenny click here.

To read People Magazine’s story on Jenny click here.

 

Teen dies after court-ordered to South Florida drug treatment center

A 17-year-old court-ordered to a South Florida drug treatment center for delinquent youths died at the facility.

The teen, found dead  Monday in his room at the Broward Youth Treatment Center, had been court-ordered into treatment at a privately run program under contract with Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice in Pembroke Pines.

Police said in a news release they don’t suspect foul play.10505404_996448617079268_7765672934859293466_n

Lawsuit contains new allegations of sexual assault by doctor

Another patient has come forward and accused an Orlando doctor forced to give up his license of sexual assault.

Dr. Gopal Basisht was profiled in The Palm Beach Post’s investigation on physicians accused of molesting their patients.

The Florida Department of Health in June accepted Basisht’s ermanent relinquishment of his license to practice medicine. The Post discovered, though, that it took nearly four years for the state to act after the initial complaint.

A new lawsuit filed by patient Lauren Kusner says Basisht committed sexual battery during an appointment in February. She says Basisht, a rheumatologist, told her to lay down and massaged her breasts and her genitals.

When a sobbing Kusner tried to leave the office,  Basisht put his arms around her and said, “I love you,” the lawsuit alleges.

Kusner’s attorney Adam Horowitz provided evidence that there have been more than a half dozen sexual assault complaints lodged by patients with law enforcement against Dr. Basisht

 

dr-gopal-basisht
It took four years from the time a patient said she was molested by Dr. Gopal Basisht to when he officially gave up his medical license in June.

The Health Department’s administrative accused Basisht of sexually assaulting two adult female patients at his rheumatology practice. Basisht denied any wrongdoing to an Orlando television station.

One of his alleged victims, Astrid Ebner, testified to the Board of Medicine that Basisht groped her genitals during an exam on June 5, 2012.

“What happened to me was absolutely atrocious,” she testified. “He was harming me physically and he was getting a kick out of it. … I know he would continue to do this if he has a chance.”

To read The Palm Beach Post’s full investigation on doctors accused of molesting their patients click here.

Jupiter mother fought rare leukemia in public eye

Nicole Rivera, a young Jupiter mother, made the struggle with a rare form a leukemia a platform to help others battling the deadly blood cancer.

By going public, Rivera gave a face to the financial hardship the disease causes families and the struggle minorities face to find suitable donors for a bone marrow transplants.

Rivera lost her own battle Saturday with the disease after a bone marrow transplant on Aug. 23 from her mother failed because it wasn’t a perfect match.

She was 28 and leaves behind her two sons, Liam, 4, and Logan, 2.

“She fought a hard battle for 10 years ,” her mother, Wanda Laracuente, said on Monday. “Ten years is long time to fight this disease, but she left me a piece of her. I have her boys, her two precious miracles.”

nicolerivera
Nicole Rivera, kisses her son Logan Nguyen, at their home in Jupiter. Rivera died on Saturday after a very public fight with leukemia. (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)

Barbara Abernathy, the CEO of Pediatric Oncology Support Team (POST) on the campus of St. Mary’s Medical Center, called Rivera a “brave ambassador” who showed keen interest in others battling with leukemia.

“By telling Nicole’s story, we were able to get that message out there about the impact this disease has on the family, both financially and emotionally,” she said.

In April 2015, as Rivera struggled to find a donor, she urged Hispanics to get tested.  Hispanics make up just 10 percent of the U.S. bone marrow donor list, compared to 61 percent of caucasian donors.

“They are afraid to get tested or they don’t have the knowledge that Hispanics donors are rare or that Hispanics do get sick like this,” she said.

Laracuente said that increasing bone marrow donors among Hispanics is difficult because of socioeconomic reasons. “A lot of them are misinformed, thinking if they are here illegally and joining the donor registry that is going to put them at risk at being deported,” she said.

POST will hold a bone marrow donor drive in Rivera’s name on Oct. 1 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. All is needed is a cheek swab to join the donor list. A blood test is not necessary.

Rivera came to the public eye in 2007 when The Palm Beach Post featured her in its “Season to Share” annual holiday campaign, which rallies assistance for struggling individuals and families.

When she was a teenager, Rivera was diagnosed with the Philadelphia chromosone associated with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a difficult  form of the disease to disease

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Nicole Rivera fought back leukemia when she was a teenager, but the lack of a suitable donor ended up costing her life.

Still, she beat back the cancer through chemotherapy and proved predictions wrong by giving birth to her two boys.

Her family, though, knew even after she was cancer free for five years, that without a full bone marrow transplant, the disease could always return for Rivera.

And it did in early 2015. At first her mother didn’t believe her daughter’s complaints of lethargy until blood tests confirmed that indeed the leukemia was back.

“I don’t know how many times a person has to be tested to prove that they should be here,” Laracuente said at the time.

“I don’t know how I’m going to help her fight. I told her, ‘You have two boys you have to fight for. You have to come back to them.’

Her mother did help her fight in the most personal way possible. After a public outreach to find a suitable donor for Rivera failed, it was Laracuente in August who became a donor but she was only a half-match.

“Because she was Hispanic she was not able to find a perfect match,” Abernathy said.

And the toll of the disease continues. Rivera’s family is struggling to bury her. “Her family is financially depleted from caring for her,” Abernathy said. “They don’t have the money for a proper service.”

She said people who want to donate to offset funeral costs can contact POST,  at 561-882-6336.

Services are set at 6 p.m. on Saturday Aycock-Riverside Funeral and Cremation Center in Jupiter.

Besides her children and mother, Rivera is survived by her grandmother Carmen Laracuente, five brothers and her longtime boyfriend and father of  her children, Ha Nguyen.

To join the national bone marrow donor register contact bethematch.org.

 

 

Face-biting murders: New drug N-Bomb may have played part, experts say

Did the designer drug dubbed “N-Bomb” — said to be the deadliest to date — play a part in the double-murder and face-biting tragedy that occurred near Tequesta?

As suspect Austin Harrouff remains hospitalized following the alleged stabbing deaths of a Jupiter couple and the injury to a neighbor who jumped in to try to save them, some medical professionals say that Harrouff’s bizarre behavior may be the result of a relatively new super drug that some takers may think is LSD.

nbomb
The “N-Bomb” bath salts has been the most dangerous designer drug available.

READ MORE: Complete coverage of the face-biting killings

Toxicology tests on double-murder suspect Austin Harrouff were negative for cocaine, marijuana, meth and opiates, and further blood tests are being processed that will be able to identify chemicals used in flakka and bath salts.

Deborah Mash, a professor and director of the Excited Delirium Education, Research and Information Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said bath salts remain very hard to detect in drug tests.

That was the case with Rudy Eugene, who in May 2012 attacked a homeless man in Miami for 18 minutes, beating him unconscious and then chewing off most of his upper face. Police shot Eugene dead after he refused to heed their warning to stop biting the victim.

The N-Bomb bath salt — its name derived from its chemical acronym 2C-I-NBOMe — hit the market in 2010, and unlike other bath salts, it works on both of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, Mash said. Neurotransmitters communicate information between the brain and the body.

“High concentrations of serotonin has been shown in tests with lab rats to induce this type of gnawing,” Mash said.

Harrouff stormed out of restaurant on Monday night, and ended up near his father’s home in southern Martin County. He attacked John Stevens and Michelle Mishcon, who were lounging in their garage, with his pocket knife, killing both.

harrouff-01
Austin Harrouff, in a 2015 Suncoast High School yearbook photo during his senior year. (Staff / The Palm Beach Post)

Deputies came upon Harrouff, hunched over Stevens, biting his victim’s face to the point that it left substantial damage, according to Martin County Sheriff William Snyder.

Mash speculated that a drug like N-Bomb triggered an already underlying mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, in Harrouff resulting in a psychotic violent break.

“They get this stuff through the Internet. These new designer drugs are made in China, and they think they are taking LSD,” Mash said. “These are very potent drugs with other contaminants. These kids don’t know and they get this stuff and it is just dangerous and deadly crap.”

While other drugs, such as crack cocaine, have been linked to excited delirium — a type of violent psychosis — Mash said what appears to have occurred with Harrouff is a different kind of toxic reaction.

“Excited delirium people don’t bite,” she said. “It is only recently that we are hearing of this because of these new designer bath salts.”

 

Doctor accused of shopping waiting room for ‘good-looking women’

While the Health Department investigated sexual molestation charges against one doctor, they found him in federal prison.

A Health Department’s administrative complaint in 2005 against Dr. Richard Allen Hill noted his address as Yazoo City Federal Correctional Institution in Mississippi.

Jail mug of Dr. Allen Richard Hill, accused by at least six female patients of fondling them, also served time in a federal prison for evading taxes on money made buying prescription pills and selling them for a profit.
Jail mug of Dr. Allen Richard Hill, who was accused by at least six female patients of fondling them. He also served time in a federal prison

Hill had been sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for not reporting his income from buying prescription drugs and selling them at a profit.

The Post investigates: State lets doctors accused of sex abuse keep practicing

While Hill was working in Vero Beach, Stuart and Davie, a Martin County animal control officer, Laura McIntosh, told police she went to see a doctor at Monterey Medical Health Services for a thyroid issue, but Hill came in to the examining room, pulled up her shirt and bra and touched her breast.

MMARTIN-ST.-LUCIE-050404-TC
Martin County animal control officer, Laura McIntosh, describes what she says happened to her during a visit to Dr. Richard Hill.

The doctor she was supposed to see later told her there was no reason for Hill to examine her breast.

After her report, at least five more women in Vero Beach came forward to say they were also fondled. Hill pleaded no contest to five misdemeanor battery charges in Indian River County and was adjudicated guilty. The Martin County case was dropped, records indicate.

Today, Hill practices in Fort Lauderdale. His license is listed as active with “obligations,” permanently requiring him to be chaperoned by a female health care worker when examining women.

A former champion international kickboxer, Hill was “notorious for ‘shopping’ the waiting room for good-looking women,” Dr. Glynnis Lyons told the Martin County patient, according to the Health Department’s administrative complaint.

Hill had crossed off Lyons’ name from the patient’s chart, writing his own name instead before he examined her, the complaint said.

When police arrested Hill in May 2004, detectives said he hid in a closet with his 2-year-old son. He later proclaimed his innocence, saying he always examined a patient’s entire body and because his sister died of breast cancer, he wanted to make sure his patients did not show signs of the disease.

Hill declined to comment to The Post for this story.

His attorney in 2004 described Hill at the time as a “hands-on doctor.”

MMARTIN-ST.-LUCIE-051804-TC
Stuart osteopath, Richard Hill, second from right, with his attorney, Richard Kibbey, far right in 2004.

State lets doctors accused of sexual abuse on patients keep practicing

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Dawn Basham in a portrait at her home in Palm Beach Gardens says “I feel I failed somehow” after the criminal sexual battery case was dropped in June against Dr. Manuel Abreu. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Dawn Marie Basham answers the phone in tears.

“You caught me at a rough moment,” Basham explains between sobs.

Less than a week earlier, prosecutors had dropped charges against the Delray Beach doctor she said sexually assaulted her during an office visit.

doctors sig
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a multi-part series starting today found a deep and troubling pattern of physicians sexually assaulting patients across the nation. The Palm Beach Post, Atlanta’s sister paper, used the AJC’s never-before-assembled data to explore cases in Florida. To read Atlanta’s findings in every state, go to http://doctors.AJC.com/doctors_sex_abuse

Basham feels alone, but she is far from it.

Other women say they are sexually victimized by their physician.

And while some South Florida doctors eventually lose or give up their licenses, others continue to practice even after they admit to sexual misconduct on a patient, a Palm Beach Post investigation led by its sister newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, found. A convoluted complaint system in Florida can end up protecting these doctors, giving them every opportunity to mitigate discipline.

“I feel I failed somehow. I didn’t get any justice,” Basham says of her criminal sexual battery case against Dr. Manuel Abreu. “It has been all for nothing.”

The case fell apart when Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles Burton barred other alleged victims from testifying, saying he was “concerned about the credibility” of the potential witnesses.

Now she waits.

She waits to see whether the Florida Department of Health acts on her complaint against Abreu, hoping, she says, he loses his ability to practice.

Dr. Manuel Abreu, who is still accused in civil lawsuits of sexual battery of patients and women he worked with.
Dr. Manuel Abreu, who is still accused in civil lawsuits of sexual battery of patients and women he worked with.

Potential patients researching Abreu on the state Board of Medicine’s website would see his license listed as clear and active. They would have no idea whether the state acted when Abreu was arrested on sexual battery charges in March 2015 after Basham and eight other women sued the doctor for sexual battery.

“I just wanted Abreu to be accountable and for people to be safe from him,” Basham said. “I feel so bad for the other victims. It’s so humiliating.”

Basham is a professional singer from Palm Beach Gardens who performs at posh resorts and private clubs. She told police Dr. Abreu “digitally penetrated” her through her underwear and caressed her buttocks during a procedure at his Delray Beach office to aspirate an infected cyst on the side of her leg above the knee, according to an August 2012 police report.

Abreu denied sexual misconduct with any patient, according to court documents.

The cyst left behind a ragged four-inch scar. She says her internal scars are worse.

She can’t sleep. She bristles at anybody trying to touch her — even in a platonic way. Starting a relationship is out of the question. She is leery of any physician. Her rambunctious Boston terrier, Giacomo, remains her only solace.

Even adult patients

cannot legally give consent

There is no such thing as consent between a doctor and patient when it comes to sex. Not ever.

“A patient shall be presumed to be incapable of giving free, full, and informed consent to sexual activity with his or her physician,” state law reads.

Doctors answer to the state boards of medicine or osteopathic medicine, where the majority of members are their peers.

“It seems like doctors protect doctors Basham said.  “I thought it was supposed to be patients first.”

The Post investigation found:

  • Despite multiple complaints from patients, the public can be left largely unaware because the state Board of Medicine’s website lists doctors’ licenses as “clear and active” until probable cause is found — a process that can take years.
  • The Health Department has the power to seek an emergency suspension of a physician’s license in cases that pose “an immediate and serious danger to the public health,” but the department applies such a crucial standard inconsistently.
  • When the state finds a doctor engaged in sexual misconduct, typically the physician is allowed by the licensing board to keep practicing with restrictions — such as a prohibition on examining female patients or children — and a fine and community service.
  • Attorneys who represent women bringing suit against these doctors say they prey on some victims with a history of mental illness, trauma or addiction, privy to the information from their medical histories.

The Health Department insists the public’s safety comes first and that disciplinary matters are addressed in a timely and fair manner.

“We can assure the public that we will be diligent and thorough in protecting them from unsafe or unscrupulous health care practices,” spokesman Brad Dalton said. “The Department of Health has a robust investigative and enforcement team that is dedicated to receiving, reviewing and investigating consumer complaints.”

Florida law prohibits the state from even acknowledging to the public that it has received a complaint or will take action against a practitioner until after a long investigative process — and only if probable cause is found.

Why it can take years

to discipline doctors

Dr. Steven P. Rosenberg, the immediate past chairman and current member of the Board of Medicine, said neither the board nor the Health Department is at fault for delays in disciplining doctors.

Defense attorneys can opt for any of numerous avenues to challenge disciplinary recommendations even before the case gets in front of the board.

When the board acts, doctors still can appeal emergency suspensions and disciplinary orders to state appellate courts, further extending a doctor’s ability to practice.

“It is frustrating for members of the board when we feel our opportunities to resolve cases are delayed,” said Rosenberg, a West Palm Beach dermatologist.

One such example was Lake Worth osteopath, Dr. David Simon, accused of using “punishment therapy” that involved handcuffs, blindfolds, a whip and other implements of sadomasochism on a female patient complaining of depression.

The Health Department recommended the Board of Osteopathic Medicine consider revoking — or at least suspending — his medical license, but the doctor contested the charges through an administrative judge and ended up on probation for two years.

“It is the legal system that circumvents the disciplinary process,” Rosenberg said. “We would welcome the Legislature to give us more authority.”

Before a complaint ever reaches a medical board for discipline, the process within the Health Department is convoluted. A flow chart that illustrates how a complaint against a physician is handled reads like a schematic to a nuclear warhead.

The Health Department investigates complaints against physicians, determines whether probable cause exists and presents the case against the doctor in front of the licensing board.

As a result, it can be years before an administrative complaint shows up on an accused doctor’s disciplinary record.

Attorney Adam Horowitz represents 20 women accusing doctors of sexual misconduct. ‘Patients have a right to know what their doctors are accused of,’ he says. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
Attorney Adam Horowitz represents 20 women accusing doctors of sexual misconduct. ‘Patients have a right to know what their doctors are accused of,’ he says. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

“Patients have a right to know what their doctors are accused of, whether it be Medicaid fraud or sexual assault,” said Fort Lauderdale attorney Adam Horowitz, who represents 20 women claiming they were sexually abused by their doctor.

“So while these charges are pending administratively with the Department of Health, an unsuspecting consumer — doing all the right things, by checking out their doctor, by going online to see whether the license is in good standing — has no idea.”

Horowitz said suing the doctor is often an alleged victim’s only resort and — in the case of Basham — lit a fire under law enforcement and prosecutors, if not the Health Department.

“Doctors end up getting the benefit of the doubt,” Horowitz said. “When you have multiple victims, when you have certain pieces of evidence that corroborate, when you have an arrest made, the Department of Health needs to act.”

Registered sex offender

keeps seeing patients

Even a doctor required to register as a sex offender was allowed to keep practicing medicine.

Dr. Michael Latterman, was a registered sex offender, pleading guilty to 3 lewd and lacivious charges on a 14-year-old boy who wasn’t a patient. But the state let him practice for about two more years.
Dr. Michael Latterman, is a registered sex offender after he pleaded guilty to 3 lewd and lascivious charges on a 14-year-old boy who wasn’t a patient.

Dr. Michael Latterman of Miami Beach pleaded guilty in 2002 to three counts of lewd and lascivious conduct on a 14-year-old boy, who was not a patient. He was sentenced to nine years of probation.

He enrolled in the Professionals Resource Network, a referral service for “impaired” health-care practitioners. Its website says doctors volunteer to participate “instead of being reported to or by DOH” (the Department of Health), thus limiting “the negative impact on his/her life.” PRN is a nonprofit financed in part by a contract with the Health Department.

As part of his probation, the court required Latterman to register as sexual offender, but an Osteopathic Board-approved evaluator found “no evidence to support” that he was a pedophile or a sexual predator. The board cleared him to return to practice, treating only adults, four months later in April 2003. That September, the board permitted him to treat children as long as another health-care provider was in the room.

In November 2004, he was arrested after an adult male psychiatric patient accused the doctor of unzipping his pants and fondling him in the emergency room at Larkin Hospital in South Miami.

Then the Health Department learned Latterman had been seeing children during the time he wasn’t supposed to, the first a 5-year-old and only 11 days after he started practicing again.

Latterman surrendered his license in late 2005. He said the 2004 charge on the Larkin incident was dropped, but he ended up serving a little more than a year in prison after pleading guilty to a probation violation, according to prison records.

Latterman denied in an interview with The Post ever abusing or having sexual relations with any patient. He said it wasn’t the incident at the hospital that violated his probation, adult pornography found on his computer.

He said emergency room workers who witnessed Latterman with the psychiatric patient were willing to testify that the claims were false.

Latterman acknowledged treating the minors but said the cases were “emergency situations” that did not involve examinations of the children’s genitalia. Also, two nurses were in the room, he said.

Second chances,

even for a prisoner

While the Health Department investigated sexual molestation charges against one doctor, they found him in federal prison.

Jail mug of Dr. Allen Richard Hill, accused by at least six female patients of fondling them, also served time in a federal prison for evading taxes on money made buying prescription pills and selling them for a profit.
Jail mug of Dr. Allen Richard Hill, accused by at least six female patients of fondling them, also served time in a federal prison for evading taxes on money made buying prescription pills and selling them for a profit.

A Health Department’s administrative complaint in 2005 against Dr. Richard Allen Hill noted his address as Yazoo City Federal Correctional Institution in Mississippi.

Hill had been sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for not reporting his income from buying prescription drugs and selling them at a profit.

While he was working in Vero Beach, Stuart and Davie, a Martin County animal control officer told police she went to see a doctor at Monterey Medical Health Services for a thyroid issue, but Hill came in to the examining room, pulled up her shirt and bra and touched her breast.

The doctor she was supposed to see later told her there was no reason for Hill to examine her breast.

After her report, at least five more women in Vero Beach came forward to say they were also fondled. Hill pleaded no contest to five misdemeanor battery charges in Indian River County and was adjudicated guilty. The Martin County case was dropped, records indicate.

Today, Hill practices in Fort Lauderdale. His license is listed as active with “obligations,” permanently requiring him to be chaperoned by a female health care worker when examining women patients.

A former champion international kickboxer, Hill was “notorious for ‘shopping’ the waiting room for good-looking women,” Dr. Glynnis Lyons told the Martin County patient, according to the Health Department’s administrative complaint. Hill had crossed off Lyons’ name from the patient’s chart, writing his own name instead before he examined her, the complaint said.

When police arrested Hill in May 2004, detectives said he hid in a closet with his 2-year-old son. He later proclaimed his innocence, saying he always examined a patient’s entire body and because his sister died of breast cancer, he wanted to make sure his patients did not show signs of the disease.

Hill declined to comment to The Post for this story.

His attorney in 2004 described Hill at the time as a “hands-on doctor.”

Feeling for a pulse

on the inner thigh

Dr. Shaheed Kalloo served as attending physician in Columbia Hospital’s psychiatric unit. Ten women, some patients at the psychiatric unit, said he fondled or molested them.
Dr. Shaheed Kalloo served as attending physician in Columbia Hospital’s psychiatric unit. Ten women, some patients at the psychiatric unit, said he fondled or molested them.

While questionable breast exams were Hill’s undoing, another doctor insisted on taking the pulse of some female patients in the inner thigh. Four women alleged Dr. Shaheed Kalloo molested them during the heartbeat check. They were among 10 women who came forward to say the West Palm Beach internist fondled or molested them during exams.

The Yale graduate served as the attending physician in the psychiatric unit of what was once Columbia Hospital in West Palm Beach. Several of the accusers were mental patients with a history of making false claims and were part of a “scheme to make money,” according to Kalloo’s lawyer, then-Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown.

According to an arrest report, a 19-year-old woman, described as having the mental ability of a 12-year-old, complained that Kalloo touched her inappropriately during exams in late 2005 or early 2006, including when she was hospitalized in the mental health ward of Columbia.

Kalloo was charged with multiple counts of battery but in May 2009 pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge and served a sentence of three months on house arrest “as a matter of convenience.” The Board of Medicine ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine in 2010 and not treat females.

A sign in the lobby of Dr. Shaheed Kallo’s West Palm Beach office, required by the state Board of Medicine, was one result of several women claiming they were sexual abused by the internist. Kallo’s medical assistant claims the women were part of a “scheme to make money.”
A sign in the lobby of Dr. Shaheed Kallo’s West Palm Beach office, required by the state Board of Medicine, was one result of several women claiming they were sexual abused by the internist. Kallo’s medical assistant claims the women were part of a “scheme to make money.”

After going to PRN to be evaluated, the board said in 2011 that Kalloo could treat female patients as long as he put up a sign in his office lobby and exam room that stated he is not to examine a female patient without another female health-care worker present.

When contacted at his office, Kalloo’s medical assistant vigorously defended the physician, saying the patients who accused him had a history of mental illness and that he has complied with all requirements to retain his license.

“This is an old story where he was falsely accused,” said Brenda Lavorano, Kalloo’s medical assistant. “Doctors with malpractice insurance especially are targets. A lot of doctors don’t have malpractice insurance because of that threat.”

“To be falsely accused by a patient with psychiatric problems who had been in a psychiatric hospital was very destructive,” Lavorano said. “It caused him a lot of professional financial issues as well as personal financial issues.”

Kalloo said he took the femoral pulse of some of the alleged victims for medical reasons, such as one patient suffering from migraines and arteriosclerosis in the lower extremities. One told police the doctor spent 10 to 15 minutes checking her pulse after putting his hand down her underwear.

Another patient said Kalloo pulled down her pants and gave her a vaginal exam despite her insistence that she had a gynecologist. Kalloo said he was checking for cysts. At least three of the victims told police they were prescribed pain medication by Kalloo.

Attorney Susan Ramsey says doctor-patient abuse involves a power relationship like those of priests and parishioners. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
Attorney Susan Ramsey says doctor-patient abuse involves a power relationship like those of priests and parishioners. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Susan Ramsey is a West Palm Beach attorney who represents women accusing doctors of sexual misconduct. She also is a former emergency room registered nurse and found it suspicious that a doctor would take a femoral pulse.

Ramsey added that the power doctors have over their patients is akin to that of priests and parishioners.

“The context of the relationship is no different,” she said. “The similarity is the secrecy.”

It is why SNAP — Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — has gotten involved, protesting against doctors accused of sexual misconduct.

“The doctor is considered one of the highest professions and thus they are to be trusted,” said Barbara Dorris, victims outreach director of SNAP. “You let your guard down with them. You are encouraged to tell them everything. That makes you very vulnerable.”

Ramsey said in her experience the Health Department and the boards overseeing doctors do very little to protect the public.

“It’s a sad tale of woe. I don’t understand why the department doesn’t take more aggressive action on this. Sometimes they don’t even investigate,” Ramsey said.

She said too often the Health Department ties its conclusions to a criminal case against an accused doctor. While the burden of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt, in a licensing matter it is a lower bar: clear and convincing evidence, Ramsey said.

Still, the Health Department can be asked to hold off on its investigation if law enforcement is building a criminal case. “We don’t have to delay, but when asked by law enforcement, we respect that request,” Dalton said.

A recent analysis found that the Health Department took an average of 434 days to resolve charges of misconduct against doctors, nurses and other health care workers, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

It took four years from the time a patient said she was molested by Dr. Gopal Basisht to when he officially gave up his medical license in June.
It took four years from the time a patient said she was molested by Dr. Gopal Basisht to when he officially gave up his medical license in June.

4 years from complaint

to doctor giving up license

It was nearly four years after a woman complained to police before Orlando rheumatologist Dr. Gopal Basisht agreed to give up his license. When the Board of Medicine met on June 3, he didn’t even show up.

His alleged victim, Astrid Ebner, testified to a stunned board that Basisht groped her genitals during an exam on June 5, 2012. Ebner told the board she later learned that other women had gone to Orlando police to say they were molested by Basisht.

“What happened to me was absolutely atrocious,” she testified. “He was harming me physically and he was getting a kick out of it. … I know he would continue to do this if he has a chance.”

The Health Department’s administrative complaint detailed how another woman said Dr. Basisht pressed down hard on her vaginal area and repeatedly asked her if he was hurting her in a tone that made the patient believe “he was enjoying it.” “He also kept breathing heavily and made comments, such as, ‘Wow,’” the complaint reads.

Represented by Horowitz, Ebner also filed a lawsuit against the doctor three days earlier. He did not face criminal charges and told Orlando television, WFTV-Channel 9, that he practiced 50 years without incident and never molested the two patients complaining of back pain.

Ebner certainly made an impression on the board.

“She sucked the air right out of the room,” said Nicholas Romanello, a West Palm Beach attorney who serves as a consumer member. “Every one of us was taken aback. It took a lot of courage to come forward and say, ‘I’m a victim.’”

However, Romanello declined to comment about whether it took too long for the department to resolve sexual misconduct complaints against doctors.

Sexual misconduct complaint

can ‘destroy a doctor’

Becky Cherney of Orlando served as a consumer member of the Board of Medicine for seven years before resigning in 2001 to protest the lack of severe penalties against doctors.

“We were there to protect the citizens of Florida, and we were not doing that,” she said. “I was a big thorn in the side of the board.”

She said there was a steady parade of cases involving sexual inappropriate behaviors by doctors and she would insist the doctors lose their license, but the doctors on the board would say she didn’t understand the technicalities because she wasn’t a physician.

“I said, “When I see a doctor is having sex with his patients, I don’t need to be a doctor to know it is wrong,’” Cherney explained.

The system errs on the side of the doctor with good reason, said Dr. Alan Pillersdorf, former president of the Florida Medical Association. He said the state does a good job of striking a balance between the public good and fairness to the accused physician.

“If you are going to destroy a doctor’s career without it being true, it’s horrible,” he said. “It can destroy a doctor who has spent his whole life trying to build his practice.”

Furthermore, the nature of sexual misconduct allegations makes them very difficult to prove.

“When something happens behind closed doors it is really hard to determine the truth,” Pillersdorf said. “Do I think there are doctors who unfortunately do things? Yes. But I don’t think there is a code of silence of people trying to build a wall.”

Former board Chairman Dr. Jason Rosenberg praised Health Department investigators, saying they are deluged. “Sex with a patient is not something that can be tolerated nor will the members of the Board of Medicine tolerate it,” he said. “But every case is different. It’s hard to generalize.”

He said there had been a discussion during his time on the board of how to alert the public if the Health Department is investigating a doctor. “When I left, I think they were working on it. They are aware of the issue,” he said.

The concern among physicians, he said, was the public would not be told the nature of the complaint. This would put doctors who failed to update their address in the same category as those accused of sexual battery.

Sexual battery arrests:

Some can’t practice; some can

When and how the Health Department seeks an emergency suspension of a physician’s license is inconsistent.

For instance, the department suspended Kalloo and Hill when criminal charges were filed, but no such action was taken against Abreu.

Health Department spokesman Brad Dalton says
Health Department spokesman Brad Dalton says when suspending doctors, the state must use the ‘least restrictive method.’

“A key factor in whether the license is restricted or suspended is the fact that the law requires the department to use the ‘least restrictive’ method of protecting the public,” Health Department spokesman Dalton said.

Horowitz said the lack of an emergency suspension in some cases goes unexplained to the public.

“There is no rhyme or reason to the Department of Health’s decision-making when it comes to issuing emergency suspension orders,” Horowitz said.

“I have seen emergency restrictions issued when two victims report sexual misconduct by the same practitioner even if there is no criminal charge filed. Yet, in other cases no emergency suspension was issued by the Department of Health even when a doctor has been criminally charged with sexual battery.”

Sometimes, the accusations against the doctor are so severe the Health Department acts immediately.

Dr. Ignacio Magana, former chief of staff at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor battery charge in Palm Beach County. The neurosurgeon agreed to give up his license as part of that deal. Post file photo
Dr. Ignacio Magana, former chief of staff at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, pleaded guilty to felony aggravated assault and one misdemeanor battery charge in Palm Beach County. The Jupiter neurosurgeon agreed to give up his license as part of that deal. Post file photo

Former chief of staff

at PBG hospital accused of rape

When it came to Dr. Ignacio A. Magana, some of the accusations were rape. After he was arrested and bonded out of jail, he continued to see patients, his lawyer said at the time.

Magana was a prominent Harvard-educated neurosurgeon who served as the former chief of staff at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center. He also saw patients in Port St. Lucie and Vero Beach.

The Health Department cited in its emergency suspension Magana’s “flagrant indifference” to patient rights and “barefaced disregard” for his duties as a doctor after he was arrested in 2002 and charged raping a woman who relied on him for her workers compensation claim, promising to keep her benefits flowing.

While acquitted on that complaint in St. Lucie County, Magana pleaded guilty “in his best interest” to felony aggravated assault and a misdemeanor battery charge in connection with five complaints from patients in Palm Beach County. He got 15 years of probation.

He ended up sentenced to one year in jail after being convicted of misdemeanor battery in Martin County for trying to fondle and kiss a patient.

The Department of Health had eight separate cases accusing Magana of allegations ranging from unwanted sexual advances to rape.

The administrative complaints on Magana are harrowing.

A patient identified only as C.S. said she was visiting her paralyzed husband, who was also under Magana’s care, at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center when Magana took her to his office to update her on her husband’s condition.

Once inside the office, he grabbed her, groped her and “threw her against the desk.” He removed his pants and attempted to penetrate her from behind. He then flipped her over and penetrated her frontally, telling her he was “——ing her now.”

Magana, as part of his criminal plea deal, agreed to relinquish his medical license. Efforts to reach Magana for comment were unsuccessful.

When is sex with

a doctor consensual?

A doctor can defend himself in criminal charges by saying sex was consensual, but that is not an option when defending his license because state law says a patient can’t give consent.

So Dr. Carlos Alberto Cohen of Delray Beach claimed that offering to take the victim’s blood pressure didn’t constitute a patient-doctor relationship. When the woman eventually fled the office, the doctor followed her home and stopped in the street at the end of her driveway, according to state records backing the suspension of his license for one year.

Cohen had offered to take the blood pressure of a 56-year-old home health-care worker on July 5, 2009. Afterward he pushed her against the wall, stuck his tongue in her mouth and pulled up her shirt to suck on her breast. Then he pulled down his pants, according to complaints, and pushed her head toward his groin.

The doctor said the woman was the one who made the initial sexual advances. Also, he did not charge her for the blood pressure check. He told her to come back later that day so he could help her find additional jobs as an aide. “He assumed and expected a physical encounter might occur based on her actions,” according to administrative court transcripts.

The alleged victim made a police report, but prosecutors never brought a case.

An administrative law judge found Cohen’s testimony “incredible” that the sex was consensual, saying it was clear that patient was not a willing participant. He said Cohen didn’t need to invite her back to his office because he could have helped her find work by telephone.

The Post could not find Cohen for comment.

The Board of Medicine suspended Cohen’s license for one year in January 2011 including conditions that he perform 100 hours of community service and pay a $5,000 fine. His medical license is listed as null and void because his license expired.

Handcuffs, blindfolds, whips

in ‘punishment therapy’?

Another doctor who claimed the sex was consensual was Simon, the osteopath who allegedly used “punishment therapy” on a patient suffering from depression.

Dr. David Simon of Lake Worth still practices on probation after he used whips and blindfolds on a woman after hours in his exam room. He claims their sex was consensual and that she was not a patient.
Dr. David Simon of Lake Worth still practices on probation after he used whips and blindfolds on a woman after hours in his exam room. He claims their sex was consensual and that she was not a patient.

Simon and the Health Department worked out a settlement for two years probation and a $10,000 fine, but the Board of Osteopathic Medicine rejected it in November 2013.

“If there was ever a time that this board would revoke a license for sexual misconduct, this is it,” said Dr. Ronald Burns, then board chairman. “We cannot have an osteopathic physician behaving like this.”

Simon’s attorney said that the complaint amounted to “adventurous sex between two adults” and threatened to challenge the board in front of an administrative judge.

The woman told sheriff investigators that the whipping started in late 2010. She didn’t want to do it, but Simon insisted it had helped others. After a “three-hour scary torture session” in November 2011, she called it quits, according to a Health News Florida story.

Though Simon said the sex occurred after she stopped being his patient, detectives found whips, chains, blindfolds, handcuffs and sexual paraphernalia in an exam room. She said Simon left her tied up in a closet then choked her. The following month she attempted suicide and was hospitalized, according to state records.

Simon, who is still practicing, declined to comment when contacted by The Post.

Targeting most vulnerable:

addicts, the mentally ill

Horowitz said he has learned by representing these victims that they fit a profile: Nearly all are women, and many have been diagnosed with mental illness or addiction. The doctors have access to their medical histories, privy to information the victims may share with no other.

“The targets tend be vulnerable people who are perceived to be weaker or not to be able to stand up for themselves and less likely to be believed,” said Horowitz, who is representing Basham among 20 victims accusing five doctors of sexual battery.

He has filed nine lawsuits against Abreu, four of which have settled. Abreu has filed for bankruptcy.

And indeed Basham fit the profile.

“I would always tell them I was abused as a child,” she said. “I know that they knew. It was all there.”

Maureen Nicholson of Weeki Wachee said Dr. Alfred E. Alingu knew she had a history of depression and had just ended an abusive relationship. Nicholson claims in police reports and a civil lawsuit that Alingu groped her vaginal area in December and said, “If I weren’t your doctor, you let me in here?”

Dr. Alfred E. Alingu of Weeki Wachee is under investigation by the Hernando Sheriff’s Department for molesting a patient. She said he knew she had a history of depression.
Dr. Alfred E. Alingu of Weeki Wachee is under investigation by the Hernando Sheriff’s Department after a patient claimed he molested her. She said he knew she had a history of depression.

“He knew all that and it makes me so angry,” Nicholson said. “He knew everything that was going on in my life and chose to ignore that and prey on me.”

Alingu’s attorney, Richard Ford, told The Post that the doctor denied the allegations.

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating the physician since December. She also has complained to the Health Department. So she worries that while her cases linger, Dr. Alingu could be abusing patients.

His license reads clear and active.

“I — as a patient — have no way of knowing if these doctors have other complaints,” Nicholson said. “I’ve yet to hear back from the Health Department. It has literally been months and I have not heard a word them.”

 

Things like that

don’t happen here’

Basham is also waiting to hear from the Health Department on her complaint. She said she feels the state agency allows doctors accused of sexual abuse to continue to practice. She doesn’t understand why the agency hasn’t acted against Abreu — who did not respond to a request for comment through his attorney.

The alleged assault occurred, Basham said, when he asked the nurse to leave the room to obtain a waterproof bandage. Basham reported the doctor immediately to the receptionist.

“She said, ‘No. No. No. Things like that don’t happen here.’”

Jail mug of Dr. Manuel Abreu
Jail mug of Dr. Manuel Abreu

\But they had, court documents allege.

Horowitz said he learned that Personal Physician Care had been put on notice that Dr. Abreu had been sexually inappropriate and had boundary issues with women.

A medical assistant who also was receiving care from Dr. Abreu told management in June 2012 that the doctor “scooped” her vagina. “What you do that for?” the woman asked Dr. Abreu, who “allegedly just laughed and left with a wicked smile,” according to a court document.

After the employee reported the incident to management, she said Dr. Abreu apologized but “complained that she did not have to go reporting him for it.”

After Basham went public and other women came forward against Abreu, police filed charges and he was jailed for several weeks as he struggled to make bail. He was fired by Personal Physician Care in June 2014.

Now that criminal charges have been dropped, Abreu can re-establish his practice.

“He is obviously happy with the outcome of the criminal cases having been dropped,” said his lawyer, Jack Fleischman. “He maintained his innocence from the very beginning, and now looks forward to moving forward with his life. I believe and am hopeful that the any further administrative review will now be over.”

Horowitz says he knows differently.

“There is an ongoing confidential investigation by the Health Department against Dr. Abreu, but it is not documented anywhere,” he said. “So the public would have no idea.”

As she waits for a call from the state, Basham takes solace in the fact that she was in court to see him face criminal charges.

“That was a beautiful moment that can never be taken away from me,” she said. “I protected other women. I exposed him and he is now accountable. I remember thinking I wiped that arrogant smirk off his face that day.”

Survey: Living wills of Incapacitated seniors ignored in guardianship

The South Florida advocacy group that pushed lawmakers to pass current reforms in adult guardianship asked its membership about their legal experiences. The finding gives a snapshot of a very broken system that is very lucrative for a handful of professionals and their attorneys.

The foremost finding of survey is that in more than three-quarters of cases judges ignored advanced directives of seniors and instead appointed a professional guardian, thus rendering carefully planned living wills moot.

Retired Hollywood physician Sam Sugar, who co-founded Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, said the survey went out to 285 members and that he received 67 responses from throughout the country.

His group says many professional guardians appointed to oversee the lives of incapacitated adults – a majority of them seniors with dementia – often take financial advantage of these vulnerable citizens and work with attorneys to drain assets and property. As plenary guardians they have complete control over their assets.

Sam Pic
Dr. Sam Sugar, co-founder of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship.

In the meantime, the family of these so-called wards find themselves powerless because judges are often complicit and allow the ransacking of the senior’s life savings. The problems in adult guardianship can be found nationwide as more baby boomers live longer their heirs and are more vulnerable to dementia and other degenerative diseases.

The Palm Beach Post in its series, Guardianships: A Broken Trust, revealed the incestuous nature of guardianship and how money from the savings of incapacitated seniors flowed into the household of Circuit Judge Martin Colin through his wife, professional guardian Elizabeth “Betsy” Savitt.

Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath  — in a series of reforms announced in the wake of the series —  transferred Judge Colin out of the Probate & Guardianship Division. Colin announced his retirement.

His wife’s cases were all moved to the North County Courthouse to prevent an appearance of favoritism by Colin’s closest colleagues but she continues to operate.

Judge Martin Colin presides over a hearing on Thursday, August 20, 2015 at the South County Courthouse in Delray Beach. Judge Colin's wife Elizabeth Savitt, who is a professional guardian, was simultaneously participating in a hearing in another courtroom with Attorney Sheri Hazeltine. (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)
Judge Martin Colin presides over a hearing. (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)

 

Elizabeth Savitt appears at a hearing with Attorney Sheri Hazeltine to discuss attorney fees for Albert Bach on Thursday, August 20, 2015 at the South County Courthouse in Delray Beach. Elizabeth Savitt is the wife of Judge Martin Colin and also a professional guardian. (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)
Elizabeth Savitt appears at a hearing  (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)

The Florida Legislature in the last two years has passed reforms to give the state its first regulatory authority over professional guardians and to hold them criminally accountable when they defraud the wards in their care.

Sugar said ignoring pre-need directives is a violation of due process for the incapacitated seniors and “spits in the face of our American notions of fair play, civil rights and justice.”

“This racket is unfettered, growing, predatory, and operates with absolute impunity because of the involvement of elected judges who function without supervision or monitoring or juries,” Sugar said.

In a landmark case, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach last year ruled that pre-need directives must be followed by the judge when determining a guardian.

The questionnaire also found 30 percent of guardianships are switched from public to private guardianship and back.

“This tactic is used by abusive guardians and their attorneys to maximize their cash flow since in many public guardianships for destitute individuals are prohibited from selling any property the ward might own,” Sugar said. “In switching back and forth between public and private guardianship the predators guarantee that they will take every possible dollar from every possible source.”

More than 80 percent of those who sent in survey said they believed the judge who appointed the professional guardian were improperly influenced. About 65 percent of respondents believe the judge was responsible for the abuse in their cases.

Nearly 50 percent said their loved ones were isolated from their family by professional guardians and over-medicated.

All the results of the AAAPG survey can be found by clicking here.

 

Judge closes Montgomery guardianship hearing as millions are at stake

A Palm Beach Circuit judge closed the guardianship proceedings on Monday for renowned socialite Mary Montgomery, asking a Palm Beach Post reporter and photographer to leave the courtroom.

Montgomery’s attorney Theo Kypreos invoked a provision of guardianship law to close the proceedings that will delve into whether Montgomery is unable to take care of herself.

img_2812-1
Bob and Mary Montgomery

The Post requested a hearing in front of Circuit Judge John Phillips and presented case law but to no avail. He said he saw nothing that would supersede Montgomery’s request under guardianship law.

Montgomery was excused from the proceeding  on whether she and her multi-millions should remain in the care of her daughter. Her former administration assistant Hilda Santana has petitioned the court to be her guardian, citing Courtnay’s arrest in Minnesota where she allegedly tried to bite a law enforcement officer checking on her mother’s welfare.

Courtnay Montgomery was not present when the proceeding was closed.

The Post wrote about the fight this Sunday.

Montgomery is the widow of late legal legend Robert Montgomery. The couple have given away $100 million to causes and are considered the county’s foremost philanthropists.

The hearing is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

Concussion doctor blasts Academy Awards for racism

The discussion about the lack of black nominees for this year’s Academy Awards dominated the ceremony Sunday night – from host Chris Rock’s opening monologue to acceptance speeches.

OmaluSmith
Dr. Bennet Omalu, left, and Will Smith at the New York photo call for Columbia Pictures “Concussion,” which opened in theaters on Christmas Day 2015.

Absent from the ceremony was black actor Will Smith, whose nuanced performance in Concussion captured the doctor who brought the issue to the forefront of the NFL and the public.

Dr. Bennet Omalu, in an interview with the Palm Beach Post in January, spoke about the lack of Academy Award black nominees.

The doctor said the issue isn’t about Smith not receiving a nod, but the fact the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has failed for two consecutive years to nominate for a major award any black, Hispanic or Asian actor, calling the Academy “a country club of exclusivity” and a “remnant of our dark past.”

“I think it is high time to find an alternative to the Academy that will reflect modern times,” he said.

Omalu is on a mission to enlighten the public about how repeated concussions in sports causes the neurological condition CTE that brings on dementia, mental illness and other problems for pro athletes.

The Post spoke to parents  who say they wouldn’t allow their children to play football in the light of Omalu’s discovery.