Coronary: A True Story of Medicine Gone Awry – Book Review

When doctors allow themselves to become beholden to corporations, as Moon and Realyvasquez did to Tenet in return for six-figure fees and perks such as easy access to hospital aircraft, management’s bottom line becomes indistinguishable from their own. It is not surprising therefore that the less scrupulous among them get sloppy about their professional and legal obligations to patients while actively promoting their own and the company’s financial issues. – From Coronary, page 276-

In September of 2001 I  moved to Shasta County, California – a pretty and rural area dominated by the Sacramento River, beautiful mountains and lush forests. A year later, one of the biggest medical fraud and malpractice scandals in the United States rocked the Shasta County community of Redding, California and that is pretty much all anyone talked about for months. So when earlier this year Klaidman’s well researched and detailed book was published, I was surprised it wasn’t being read by every person in the county. It got a blurb in the newspaper and a few people wrote angry letters to the editor complaining that Klaidman had written unduly harsh commentary about the community of Redding…but otherwise it was released to mostly silence. Ironically, Klaidman’s account in part explains this resistance of Redding’s citizens to see the scandal for what it was and is – a shameful, egg-in–the-face, shocking betrayal which is hard to understand and harder still to accept.

The story is about a large corporation (Tenet Healthcare), two egotistical doctors (Dr. Chae Hyun Moon – a celebrated cardiologist, and Dr. Fidel Realyvasquez – a respected cardiac surgeon), a state of the art hospital, a tight-knit, rural community and the hundreds of patients who were operated on unnecessarily. When all the numbers were in, an astounding 769 patients over a period of a few short years had undergone completely unnecessary, invasive cardiac procedures including by-pass surgeries. Almost half were under the age of 65 years old. And the doctors involved as well as Redding Medical Center, owned by Tenet, had profited to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Many patients died from complications of their unneeded medical care, still others are living lives of chronic disability and pain. A three year Federal investigation led to a huge (more than 450 million dollar) settlement, but no criminal charges. Astonishing? Yes. I couldn’t put this book down.

 Klaidman walks the reader through the unfolding scandal piece by piece, introducing the key players and demonstrating how something this obscene could actually happen in our medical system. The book is compulsively readable and almost unbelievable. The reader will never view the medical system in the same way again.

As someone who has worked as a licensed physical therapist for eighteen years, I found myself dismayed and angry after reading Klaidman’s novel. This shouldn’t happen – ever.

This is a book that everyone should read.

Highly recommended.

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    • Anonymous on August 7, 2007 at 10:45

    This sounds exactly like something I should stay away from. I’m already so suspicious of the medical establishment. My instinct is to doubt everything my doctors say until I do mounds of research myself. This book sounds like it would make me very angry. Good review.

    • Anonymous on August 8, 2007 at 10:52

    Kookie: You are right to do your own research and I always tell everyone to get a second opinion before doing anything invasive, including surgery. This book just reinforced that! I’m sure it would make you angry – it infuriated me!

    • Anonymous on August 8, 2007 at 14:40

    Great Review Wendy. I, too, am very suspicious of doctors. I have a friend about to undergo major elective surgery and I keep driving her nuts trying to get her to get a second opinion etc.

    • Anonymous on August 9, 2007 at 11:22

    It really is a shame that a small number of shady doctors that ignore the ethics they are taught in med school, combined with health corporations and insurance companies, have destroyed our ability to trust the health care system. It is an urgent problem that needs to be fixed.
    This sounds like a very interesting book, I might pick it up for my hubby, who is in his 2nd year of his general surgery residency.

    • Anonymous on August 9, 2007 at 11:34

    Alisia: I totally agree. This book shocked me because of how egregious it was – and I just have can’t believe that these doctors ignored their duty as physicians to make a few bucks…and betrayed their patients in the process. It is so disgusting. I think your husband would like to read the book – there are many good doctors out there, but as we all know…it only takes a few doing something so horrible to mar the reputation of everyone. To this day (several years after this scandal) people in Shasta County feel some anxiety going to this particular hospital (even though the hospital is under new ownership and the “bad” guys are gone).

    • Anonymous on August 13, 2007 at 13:37

    Wow – this sounds like a very compelling book. I will have to save this up for my next book-club recommendations. One of the participants is a Vet and I’m sure she’d be very interested in this.
    Deb on the Run
    (from the Non-Fiction Five Challenge)

    • Anonymous on August 14, 2007 at 12:08

    It is very compelling – come on back after you’ve read it and let me know what you thought!

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