One of the fun parts about writing thriller novels is hiding the “bad guys” in unexpected places. That’s why, when I was dreaming up my newest Jess Kimball thriller, Fatal Game, one of the ideas I liked was for a doctor to be less than trustworthy.
Unfortunately, the storyline happens not only in fiction, but in real life.
Fortunately, doctors don’t make a lot of mistakes. Most doctors are honest, hardworking, and trustworthy. When I was a practicing lawyer, I sometimes defended hospitals and doctors in medical malpractice cases, where the claims were unfounded. But doctors are people and we already know that not all people are as conscientious as they should be. And some people, including a few doctors, leave a lot to be desired. Here are two doctors authorities say were so callous they would make a chilling villain in any novel. Fortunately for all of us, these two are now in prison.
An American doctor named Michael Swango started showing signs of instability as early as medical school. His classmates say he kept scrapbooks of horrific images, like bloody disasters. When he began interning in 1983, there was a pattern of patients dying after Swango had been in the room with them — but an investigation failed to find any criminal action by Swango. Later, on the job in Illinois, a new set of coworkers became suspicious when they started going home with stomach pains after working with Swango. The coworkers set up a trap, leaving him alone in a room with a pitcher of iced tea. Sure enough, upon testing the tea in a lab, they found that Swango had infused it with ant poison. Swango served only two years of a five-year sentence, then forged credentials and worked in medical fields around the United States and Africa, eventually hiding in Europe. In 1997, Swango was arrested when trying to fly into the U.S., and was sentenced to life without parole. Officials say, in the end, he killed between thirty and sixty of his patients.
Farid Fata is the man behind what U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade has called “the most serious fraud case in the history of the country.” Fata, a former hematologist and oncologist, is accused of ordering lifetime chemotherapy not only for people whose cancer was in remission, but also for people who never even had cancer. According to Newsweek,
“At seemingly every stage of cancer (including no cancer at all), Fata promised his patients that remission was 70 percent likely, but only if they were completely loyal to him.”
Prosecutors say Fata intentionally gave at least 553 patients unnecessary injections and infusions in order to receive more than $17 million in fees. In 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan sentenced Fata to 45 years in federal prison.
To find out how bad doctors play a role in my new Jess Kimball novel, Fatal Game, you can select the book from your retailer of choice HERE.