"Potentially preventable…death"; Tucson doctor investigated

"Potentially preventable…death"; Tucson doctor investigated

By Craig Smith. CREATED May 14, 2013

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A well known Tucson doctor investigated for serious accusations. He's even accused of possibly speeding up the death of four patients.
So why don't more people in Tucson know about all of this?
Because he's under fire for what he did with patients in Canada.

These are some serious accusations: causing severe and even deadly harm to patients.
The Tucson doctor had taken a new job with the government run BC Cancer Agency in Canada; but when they started investigating his methods, he quit and came back to Tucson.
With patient after patient---accusations the doctor took risky chances with his patient's lives.

"The deviation of the standard of care, might have contributed to an earlier death," says Dr. Max Coppes, President of the BC Cancer Agency.
In other words, they say Dr. Suresh Katakkar broke the rules and that his treatments may have caused patients  to die before their time.
Dr. Katakkar's trouble started when he took the prestigious new position at a brand new government cancer center in British Columbia.
He had worked in Tucson more than 30 years but after less than a year in Canada, complaints started coming in.

Dr. Coppes of the Cancer Agency says, "When a concern is raised about quality or safety, you need to look at it."
In the cancer agency report, Dr. Katakkar is accused of harming patients by using the wrong treatments; and when colleagues warned him to stop, he didn't.

The probe became a big story in Canada.
Investigators in Canada found 54 patients received "unacceptable levels"of care; eight whose treatment may have resulted in "severe" and "preventable" harm.
The most serious allegations involve four patients whose deaths could have been "potentially preventable" and could have actually been caused by the unusual treatment from Dr. Kattakar.
News reports out of Canada say that's where Holly Hill comes in.
In one report, her family says she had cancer and it got so bad Dr. Kattakar made an unapproved vaccine out of her own cancer cells...
"This was somebody trying to help a sick patient that wanted to fight," says Hill's husband, Sterling Roberts.
Her family says they are glad Dr. Kattakar experimented on Holly because it could have been her only chance.
But the cancer agency investigation says Kattakar used an "untested, discredited treatment.
In Canada, Dr. Bert Kelly says Katakkar is a good, caring doctor and a friend, but the rules exist for a reason.

Dr. Kelly says, "It's vital not to offer false hope to people, and we have all these protocols we follow, but it's also just as vital not to offer no hope to people.
Dr. Kattakar says he now works part time at a clinic near Orange Grove and La Cholla.
He didn't want to answer our questions on camera but he did tell me this:
Holly Hill knew the risks and agreed to the unusual vaccine.  Her husband, Sterling Roberts, backs him up.

He says, "He knew he could get in trouble for it. But he knew he couldn't wait to administer the treatment because of how aggressive and bad her cancer was."

Dr. Kattakar admits making the vaccine for Holly but as far as the other 53 patients, He says he didn't use unapproved drugs, just drugs the government in British Columbia doesn't want to pay for.
The BC Cancer Agency says if drugs work, they'll pay for them. The doctor who oversaw the Katakkar investigation says a lot of cases where he broke the rules were not last ditch efforts to save desperate patients.

"It was a lot of pretty run of the mill stuff.", says Dr. Marianne Taylor of the BC Cancer Agency.
Was it breaking the rules, putting patients' lives on the line, or just a money dispute with his bosses?
Canadian officials say the case is closed for now unless Dr. Kattakar ever decides to come back.

Dr. Kattakar says he never reported the Canadian investigation to medical licensing authorities in Arizona so patients here would not have been able to find out what happened there.

Now that KGUN9 is reporting on it, he tells us he'll tell Arizona regulators about what happened in Canada.

Craig Smith

Craig Smith

Craig enjoys using innovative writing and visuals to make difficult stories easier to understand. As a newsroom manager at KGUN 9, Craig was part of the team that won three best newscast awards from Arizona Associated Press