that's life (Australia)
Mum’s three-year hell: Told I was dying but my doc was lying
For three years, Patty Hester, 66, believed she had incurable cancer
Looking around the waiting room at the very sick patients, I shivered. I can’t wait to get this over with, I thought.
I’d had pneumonia and, when a blood test came back as slightly abnormal, my GP wanted me to see a haematologist.
So now, I was about to see Dr Farid Fata.
‘Dr Fata comes highly recommended,’ I’d told my husband, Michael.
A technician in an emergency department,
I’d done my research.
And Dr Fata, a haematologist and oncologist, had a sterling reputation.
‘I’m much better,’ I told him, thinking the visit was just a precaution.
He took blood and asked me to wait while his in-house lab tested it. Only an hour or so later, he had the results ready to discuss.
‘The numbers have dropped a lot,’ he said in his soft, kind voice. ‘You need a bone marrow biopsy.’
I was shocked.
‘But there’s nothing wrong with me,’ I said.
‘Look at the lab results,’ he said, explaining my positive attitude could be masking the fact that
I was really sick.
Shocked, I didn’t question his expert opinion further.
My head spun as I had the biopsy, and two weeks later I was back for the results.
Michael, then 61, came with me.
‘You have a type of blood cancer called myelodysplastic syndrome, MDS, also known as pre-leukaemia,’ Dr Fata told me.
He said I was terminal.
I don’t have cancer, I thought. I feel ne. I was training to be a tness instructor! Then I realised I must be in denial.
‘You can start chemotherapy tomorrow,’ he told me.
I didn’t want to do that, remembering a friend who’d had MDS.
‘I want a stem cell transplant,’ I said, telling him it had saved her.
‘Chemotherapy’s the best way,’ he insisted, explaining a transplant wasn’t right for me.
I knew how sick chemo would make me, and thought I’d prefer to live a shorter life, feeling well.
So, despite Dr Fata’s frustration, I refused chemo.
Instead, I’d have iron infusions and an immune treatment to help, even though they couldn’t cure me.
Dr Fata couldn’t say how long I had left, but my time was limited.
I was just 56, and Michael was very worried and frustrated.
‘You should have chemo,’ he said.
But for me it had to be an absolute last resort. In the meantime, I broke the news to loved ones.
My son, Kyle, then 26, was in the Navy and
I waited until I could tell him face to face.
He cried as I held him in my bruised arms, damaged from all the IV infusions.
Say something if you aren’t happy with your treatment
heartbroken for me.
But showing the medics I worked with my results, they agreed the blood tests couldn’t lie.
I was dying.
‘Let’s go to Disney,’ I suggested, wanting to enjoy some family time.
So, in spring 2011, we had a big holiday there.
Getting back, I tearfully gave away possessions, including my ski equipment and paintings.
‘I want you to have this while I’m here to give it to you,’ I explained.
Despite it all, I tried to keep an ever-positive attitude.
Months, then years passed. I felt weaker and weaker, but Dr Fata said my test results were stable.
Then, in 2013 – three years after my diagnosis – my world fell apart again.
‘Your doctor is on the news,’ a colleague said, pointing to a TV.
Watching, I saw footage showing Dr Fata’s of ce surrounded by authorities. He’d been arrested.
But what for? I wondered, stunned.
As the day wore on, there was talk about him wrongfully treating patients. And then I got a call. Of cers wanted to talk to me at my house about my diagnosis.
They suspected that Dr Fata had been lying to his patients and giving treatment unnecessarily, so he could take payments from Medicare or health insurance companies.
‘What if I’m not dying?’ I said to Michael, feeling overwhelmed.
Tests that same week revealed the truth.
‘There’s no evidence of MDS,’ the doctor told me. ‘You never had it,’ she said, hugging me.
My results had been lies. ‘Go out and live your life,’ she told me.
‘How do I do that?’
I asked feeling dazed.
Joy at being able to see my family, including my granddaughter, Payton, grow up soon turned to anger.
I’d lost three years of my life under a terrible cloud. I wasn’t the only one.
The investigation found Dr Fata had unnecessarily given chemo to 553 patients and submitted over
$40 million in fraudulent claims for the treatments.
Thankfully, I’d never received chemo, but the treatments had destroyed my immune system, leaving me feeling so weak, and the emotional toll was huge.
Farid Fata pleaded guilty to 13 counts of health care fraud, one of conspiracy to pay or receive kickbacks and two counts of money laundering.
In July 2015, I went to the District Court in Detroit, in the US, to watch Fata, dubbed ‘Dr Death’ by the media, be sentenced.
The judge locked him up for 45 years. But it couldn’t make up for what he did.
I’m speaking out so something like this never happens again.
It’s okay to question and say something if you aren’t happy with your treatment.
Now, I want to use the years I never expected to have, to have a positive impact on the world.
And to remember how precious life is. ●
Listen to Patty’s story on the Wondery podcast,