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AIDS Suit Decries Vitamin C Treatments : Courts: Nine plaintiffs in '91 case charge Medical Center of North Hollywood with failing to halt useless injections.

November 11, 1992|JACK CHEEVERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Medical Center of North Hollywood knew a doctor was treating patients in its AIDS ward with useless Vitamin C injections but did nothing to stop him, according to new papers filed in a lawsuit by nine AIDS sufferers.

The patients sued the hospital, the doctor and several others last year, saying they participated in an "unethical experiment" on the patients using an illegal AIDS potion.

The new court papers charge that the hospital's lack of action in the Vitamin C episode encouraged the doctor, Valentine Birds, to approve surgery two years later so different patients could take intravenous injections of an unproven anti-AIDS compound called Viroxan.

A lawyer for the hospital strongly denied the new allegations. The hospital previously denied the charge that it was involved in an unethical medical experiment.

The patients also contended that Birds hooked them up to a black box--called a Renaissance Machine or Accuscope--that had wires and electrodes protruding from it but no medical value. They said Birds used the device to test them for "toxin frequencies" and then prescribe expensive but useless remedies.

Birds' attorney could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Medical Board of California last year revoked Birds' physician's license for helping patients inject themselves with Viroxan and pressured an Orange County doctor who invented it, Stephen Herman, to surrender his license--the first such action in California against what authorities characterized as AIDS quackery.

Herman injected Viroxan into AIDS patients for more than a year without government permission or reliable evidence that it was safe or effective, state officials said. He was ordered by federal drug regulators not to experiment on humans with Viroxan and was convicted in Orange County on charges of false advertising related to sales of the potion.

Since then, he has moved his operations to Kenya, and Viroxan is being tested on Africans with AIDS.

The patients contend in their suit, filed last year in Los Angeles, that Birds, Herman, the hospital and others conducted an unapproved and dangerous experiment aimed at producing human test data that would help Herman market Viroxan. Herman, a radiologist with no training in treating AIDS, first made the compound in his guest-house kitchen in 1988.

According to the suit, Birds admitted dozens of AIDS patients to the 182-bed North Hollywood hospital in 1989 for surgery to install rubber tubes that permitted them to inject Viroxan at home. The patients claim the hospital slashed its regular fees as a lure for them to undergo the procedure.

In legal papers added to the suit last month, the patients further charged that the hospital failed to revoke Birds' staff privileges in 1987 after nurses complained to the head of its AIDS ward, Dr. Paul Keith, that Birds was giving Vitamin C to patients with AIDS-related pneumonia.

In a declaration on behalf of the patients, Dr. Michael Gottlieb, who first identified AIDS as a specific disease, said that treating AIDS-related pneumonia with Vitamin C was "an extraordinary departure" from proper medical care.

Such treatment, he said, "raises very real and very serious doubts about the competency and medical judgment of a physician who would so flagrantly place into jeopardy the life and health of his patients."

In a sworn declaration, one nurse said that she and others felt so strongly about Birds that they told some patients to get a different physician.

The new court papers said Keith agreed that Birds' treatment was improper and took his concerns to the hospital's top administrator, Michael Weinstein.

But rather than cancel Birds' staff privileges, Weinstein merely said Birds should be informed that the hospital could provide him with more information on infectious diseases.

In an interview Tuesday, Alan Rushfeldt, an attorney for the hospital, painted a different picture of Keith's reaction. He said Keith felt Vitamin C was "perfectly appropriate" if used in conjunction with other treatments.

Asked if Birds used additional therapies, Rushfeldt said: "I don't know." But he added that Keith did not think any disciplinary action should be taken against Birds.

In the interview, Rushfeldt denied that the hospital struck a deal with Birds to slash its fees to get more patients to undergo surgery for Viroxan infusion.

The hospital lawyer acknowledged that Birds was allowed to use hospital meeting rooms to discuss his unorthodox medical views with AIDS patients. But he said most of Birds' patients found out about him through referrals by other doctors and AIDS sufferers, not the hospital discussions.

"In my opinion, he is not going to be able to meet the burden of proof on any of the issues he raised," Rushfeldt said of Henke, the patients' lawyer.

The patients also said Birds hooked them up to a black box in his office to select remedies and even to "treat" them for infections related to the catheter implants, Henke said.

Birds would spin dials on the device to determine the patients' "toxin frequencies" and "organ frequencies" before prescribing expensive potions to them, said Henke, who described the box as "a charlatan's invention."

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