Good Love, Bad Medicine?

Posted July 30, 2009 in News

Finding a good doctor is difficult; it is even more difficult while facing a life-threatening disease. So in 2008 when patients—most notably those battling cancer—discovered that their doctor was being trailed in federal court and could possibly lose his medical license, many did not question their physician. Instead they remained loyal.


In the case of the United States vs. Vinod Patwardhan, the Upland doctor specializing in oncology was convicted and found guilty of conspiracy, two counts of introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce and three counts of smuggling goods into the United States. Patwardhan now awaits sentencing, currently set for Sept. 21.


The charges stem from the doctor bringing in unapproved, mislabeled drugs, mainly from India and Honduras, for use on his patients.


Regardless of the trial’s outcome, many patients are still actively supporting Patwardhan. “We have received hundreds of letters in support of him,” says Benjamin Gluck, Patwardhan’s attorney. “Many of them are from his patients.”


Patients say that although he has been found guilty, they still stand by him as a doctor.


“I don’t care about the details. I’ve read a couple of things and stuff like that but it doesn’t matter what the other people and the media writes,” says Iqminder Sandhu, a patient of 2 months who routinely traveled six hours to get chemotherapy from Patwardhan. “I know the person. Every patient from 10 to 15 to 25 years knows him. They know the person, I know him. It’s just one of those things that didn’t matter to me.”


Rachel Bustillos, a patient of 15 years who has received cancer treatments twice and whose condition is now in remission, also agrees with Sandhu’s assessment.


“He is a really fantastic friend and doctor,” she says. Over the 15 years she’s known Patwardhan, the doctor has provided above-and-beyond care. “There was one time that I didn’t have a ride to his office . . . He did not hesitate one minute to offer to come and get me. He even said, ‘If you need medicine, I’ll bring it to you.’”


“He’s just that kind of a doctor,” says Sandhu. “He just takes his time and listens to you and becomes your friend—treats you like more than just a cancer patient.”


However, the survivors of one of Patwardhan’s patients, a Montclair woman, have sued the doctor for malpractice and other allegations.


But while many other patients with different stories write in everyday, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips “and only the judge will decide what Dr. Patwardhan’s sentence will be. The judge has authority to sentence him anywhere from probation to 71 years in prison,” says Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Widman. “Anyone may write a letter to the judge about Dr. Patwardhan’s sentencing. The judge decides whether and to what extent any such letters weigh in her decision on sentencing.”


“It was wrong of him to do what he did,” says Bustillos. “I would hope that they would at least put him on probation [but] let him practice.”


“He just made a technical error,” says Sandhu.


The State Medical Board is scheduled to decide whether or not Patwardhan can continue practicing during the Sept. 21 sentencing date.


Until then, patients like Sandhu and Bustillos will continue to go to Patwardhan for treatments and stand by him.


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