The Facts About
The David Horton Case
On her website, Susan Gallagher has posted a negative article about me from the Reno-Gazette Journal, with the headline “Doctor says he’s guilty of malpractice.”
The fact is that I never said any such thing.
I immediately wrote a letter to the newspaper, pointing out that I never said I was guilty, and pointing out several other inaccuracies in the story. Here is the letter.
Oct 24, 2007
It's one thing to have poor journalism. Jaclyn O'Malley's hatchet job on me on Monday, Sept. 24, was biased and unfair. That's all right. These days objective, intelligent reporting is hard to find. But your headline, "Doctor says he's guilty of malpractice" is just plain not true. The fact is that I have never admitted to malpractice in the case of David Horton. Why? Because despite the opinion of others, none of whom were there except Dave, there was none. Dave never complained about my treatment of him -- never. He saw me for care right up until the day he died. As a practical matter, I entered into a litigation settlement with his family, and a stipulation with the medical board. That's all. At no time have I admitted to any malpractice.
By God's grace, in over 35 years of treating patients with a mixture of alternative and conventional medicine I have never once had a patient sue me or complain to any medical board about my treatment. Not once -- ever. That includes Dave Horton as well.
Frank Shallenberger, MD
The newspaper printed that letter, but somehow Ms. Gallagher never bothered to put it on her website. I’ve also hired an attorney to advise me on possible legal action against the paper.
To prove libel, it is not enough to show that the allegations in the article are false. I will also have to show that the paper acted with malicious intent or with a reckless disregard for the truth.
I’ll let you know what happens with my action against the newspaper. In the meantime, Here are the facts on the David Horton case.
David Horton was a dear friend of mine for over 15 years. I was not his primary doctor, but he did call on me occasionally about medical issues.
Dave was a lobbyist for the Nevada Homeopathic/Integrative Medical Association. As such, he was knowledgeable about alternative medicine and he was friendly with a lot of alternative doctors. So when Dave needed a doctor, sometimes he’d call me and sometimes he’d call someone else.
In 2003, Dave was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. He interviewed several of the doctors he was seeing, and decided I should be the one to treat his cancer.
As you may know, the prognosis for any Stage 4 cancer is very bad. The odds of survival are very slim. So as a doctor, I do my best to treat the cancer, while giving the patient the best quality of life possible.
To that end, I usually use a time-tested chemotherapy treatment called IPT. IPT is my treatment of choice for two reasons:
First, when it comes to killing cancer cells, there’s compelling evidence that IPT is just as effective as conventional chemotherapy. Second, when it comes to quality of life, the evidence on IPT is indisputable: IPT does not cause any of the horrific side effects of conventional chemo.
I’ve treated dozens of cancer patients with IPT and have had extraordinary success. So when Dave came to me, we both agreed that IPT was the best treatment to use. Unfortunately, I was not able to save my friend, and he died 6 months later.
Dave’s family had been very much opposed to my form of treatment. His daughter and daughter-in-law are both conventional MDs, and they thought what I was doing was witchcraft. So after Dave died, the family sued me for malpractice.
What happens when you get sued is that the lawyers subpoena your patient charts, looking for something to use against you. (This is called “chart shopping.”) And in this case, they found the perfect thing to hang me on.
They jumped on the fact that four years earlier, Dave had come to my office with rectal bleeding, and I had diagnosed him with hemorrhoids. The records show that I gave him homeopathic suppositories and the bleeding went away never returned.
The lawyers from the other side say that I should have known he had cancer when I saw the rectal bleeding. This is ridiculous, for a number of reasons.
First of all, Dave did not have any other symptoms of cancer, such as black stools or abdominal pain.
Second, when Dave used the suppositories, his bleeding stopped and did not return. If the bleeding were due to cancer, the suppositories would not have stopped it.
Third, David was very knowledgeable about medical matters. If he’d thought I’d blown his diagnosis, he would never have come to me for his cancer treatment.
The lawyers from the other side say that I should have ordered a colonoscopy for Dave, simply as a matter of course. The fact is that I tell all my older patients to get colonoscopies, and I had told Dave on more than one occasion that he should get one. But since I wasn’t his primary physician, I never followed up.
Dave had at least two other doctors who treated him. Neither one of them ordered a colonoscopy for him. He also had a daughter who was a doctor and a daughter-in-law who was a doctor. They didn’t order a colonoscopy, either. It was a tragic case of “too many chefs in the kitchen,” with no one in charge and no one finding Dave’s cancer.
I felt terrible that Dave got sick. I felt terrible that I wasn’t able to save him. I felt bad for his children, who had lost a father. But to say that I was guilty of malpractice here is a giant stretch.
I wanted to fight the malpractice charges, but my insurance company did not. They told me that if I settled out of court, they would pay the settlement. But, if I took the case to trial, and the plaintiffs received a settlement greater than what had been offered, they wouldn’t pay a dime toward it. I would have to pay the difference
So reluctantly, I settled. The family got a sizable payment from the insurance company. I paid a small fine to the state of Nevada and had to take 15 hours of continuing education. And I got a black mark on my once-spotless patient record.
I thought the matter was settled. But Dave’s relatives weren’t through. They contacted the local newspapers and TV stations and got the Reno newspaper to write an article.
There are over a hundred malpractice settlements a year in Nevada, and you never hear about them because they’re just not newsworthy. But in this case, the family had a great story about a “quack” doctor. So they went to the paper and the paper printed it.
The reporter called me and I refused to speak to her because I did not want to be misquoted as I had been in the past. So instead I sent the reporter a written statement. That way she couldn't claim she heard me wrong.
Well, nothing in my statement ever made it into the article. But the article did manage to include a bunch of negative opinions from people who weren’t even involved in the case! Like Susan Gallagher.
The biased nature of the article was truly astounding. To give you an idea, the article was 1,495 words long. Of those 1,495 words, exactly 91 words were devoted to my side of the story.
Thankfully, my patients and the other informed medical consumers in the area were too smart to fall for this hatchet job. New patients continued to flock to see me. And existing patients wrote letters to the newspaper denouncing the article. Today, my practice is busier than ever.
But here’s what bothers me: What happens to someone with health problems who is not as well informed as my patients?
Somewhere out there is a person with health problems who’s been going from one doctor to another, looking for a solution. The person starts reading about alternative medicine and considers trying it. Then he or she reads a biased article by Susan Gallagher or the Reno Gazette-Journal and gets scared away.
That, too, is a terrible tragedy.