Story first appeared in The Detroit News.
Rochester Hills— Cathy Bastian fears her future.
The Oakland Township woman says she is scared of what 21 rounds of chemotherapy she didn’t need did to her body.
The treatments, administered by indicted oncologist Farid Fata, went on for 18 months after she was told she no longer had any evidence of a deadly form of lung cancer in her body.
“He kept me on chemotherapy for a year and a half,” Bastian said during a meeting with other patients of the embattled oncologist. “I begged for my life. I said ‘Dr. Fata, I don’t think my body can take it anymore.’ ”
Bastian says she received 33 sessions of chemotherapy when medical tests indicated she needed 12 sessions to cure her early form of small-cell lung cancer, which has a low survival rate if not caught early.
Bastian is a member of a group of former patients and family members who say they are seeking justice in the wake of criminal charges filed against Fata for Medicare fraud.
The group plans to protest Wednesday outside U.S. District Court before the start of a bond hearing. Fata is being held on a $9 million bond and his lawyers are asking a judge to lower it so their client can be free pending trial later this month on multiple charges of health care fraud.
The doctor maintains he is innocent, according to his co-counsel, Christopher Andreoff.
The group of his former patients gathers regularly at a hotel near Crittenton Hospital’s Cancer Center in Rochester Hills, where some of them first met Fata. They hug each other and share tears as they recall their time as Fata’s patients.
They wonder aloud if their exposure to unnecessary chemotherapy will make them even sicker in the days, months or years to come.
Last month, they launched a letter-writing campaign to state lawmakers and county prosecutors, hoping officials will review state laws regarding licensing physicians. They want Fata to face state criminal charges along with the federal charges.
Many of them plan to follow the case and attend every court hearing involving the doctor.
Fata, the owner of Michigan Hematology Oncology P.C., which has offices in Rochester Hills and six other locations, including Bloomfield Hills and Oak Park, is charged with submitting false and fraudulent claims for medical treatments that were not medically necessary.
Among the allegations: Fata administered chemotherapy and other cancer treatments to patients who didn’t need them. He also is accused of engaging “in a scheme to unlawfully enrich himself” by soliciting and receiving kickbacks in exchange for referring patients for home health care and hospice services.
The federal charges, filed last month, allege that from August 2007 to July 2013, Fata’s MHO practice billed Medicare around $225 million, of which $109 million was for chemotherapy or other cancer treatments. Of the approximately $225 million, Medicare paid more than $91 million to Fata’s medical practice.
Kevin Brown, a Lake Orion resident, said he was very fond of Fata and credited the doctor with curing him of cancer in 2007. Brown said he was shocked when Fata suggested he have more chemotherapy as part of a “maintenance” plan.
“This guy told me I was going to see him the rest of my life,” said Brown.
Angry and filled with questions, Brown said he believes his recent onset of alopecia (hair loss that occurs when the immune system attacks hair follicles) can be attributed to the cancer drug Fata prescribed for him a year even after scans showed him to be cancer-free.
“I just want to meet him face to face ... man to man and ask him why did he do that to me?”
Fata has been in the Wayne County Jail under federal custody since last month, when he was arrested after federal authorities raided his home and medical offices in Oakland County.
His trial is set for mid-October. If convicted, Fata faces a maximum of 10 years for each count.