Victims recount abuse by convicted cancer doctor

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Lansing — Robert Sobieray speaks with a slight slur because all but two of his teeth fell out after 24 months of chemo treatments for cancer he never had.

Sobieray, 62, is among four people who testified before the state House Health Policy Committee in Lansing on Tuesday in favor of legislation that would revoke the medical license of Dr. Farid Fata, who falsely diagnosed scores of Southeast Michigan residents with cancer to bilk Medicaid and Medicare out of millions of dollars.

Fata pleaded guilty to 16 counts of health care fraud, money laundering and conspiracy after his crimes were uncovered by an Federal Bureau of Investigation probe. But under current Michigan law he could still keep his license. Under the proposed legislation, Fata and other doctors found guilty of egregious conduct could have their licenses permanently revoked.

The committee approved the three-bill package following riveting testimony from Sobieray and others. Sobieray still suffers from side effects and chronic pain after two years of infusion therapy with the cancer drug Zometa. The fragments that remained of his teeth had to be removed by oral surgeons at the University of Michigan.

"He said 'There's lesions on your bone,' " Sobieray told the committee. "(Fata) said 'You're going to be on Zometa for the rest of your life.' "

"I asked him how long do I have, and he said 'I don't know, only time will tell.' "

Angela Swantek, a registered nurse who has treated oncology patients for 24 years, said she was offered a job at Fata's clinic, but wouldn't take the position until he allowed her to observe. She found 16 patients in chairs getting infusion therapy.

Swantek said she walked out after seeing two drugs, Neulasta and Velcade, wrongly administered and complained to state regulators. But licensing officials found Fata in compliance with the public health code, and Fata was allowed to operate for three more years.

"I thought about all those patients sitting in all those chairs ... for three years up to that time," Swantek said of her reaction to news that Fata was busted by the FBI. "We should not (have to) rely on the FBI to police our medical professionals."

Michelle Mannarino of Waterford Township told the committee her mother suffered a "horrific death" on Sept. 28, 2010, after one year of Fata's treatments.

"She never stood a chance in this battle, as she was being poisoned and tortured for personal greed," Mannarino said. "Several times when I had researched and questioned his treatment, he asked if I had fellowshipped at Sloan Kettering like he had — which of course, I hadn't, so I deferred to the doctor."

Under current law, Fata's license could be suspended for three years with the possibility of a five-year extension. Only doctors convicted of rape can have their licenses permanently revoked.

The proposed legislation now goes before the full House for a vote and will need to be approved by the state Senate before it can go to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder for possible signing.