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Doc Tied To Hyperbaric Deaths Loses License

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Florida Board of Medicine
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A Florida doctor held criminally negligent in the fiery deaths of a child and his grandmother in a hyperbaric chamber has lost his medical license, seven years after the tragedy made international headlines.

The Florida Board of Medicine revoked the medical license of Dr. George Daviglus and those of four other physicians on Friday at a disciplinary hearing in Altamonte Springs. 

In addition to Daviglus, a license revocation also  was ordered for Dr. Edwardo Williams, formerly of Tallahassee; Dr. Mohammad Fathi Abdel-Hameed of Orlando; and Dr. Michael Dietch III of Port Orange, south of Daytona Beach. 

A board-certified chest surgeon, Daviglus was working as medical director for a hyperbaric oxygen treatment center in 2009 in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a tiny enclave between Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach, when tragedy struck.

Francesco Martinisi, a 4-year-old Italian child who had cerebral palsy, and his grandmother, Vicenza Pesce, were in one of the center’s pressurized oxygen chambers when a spark caused a fire. Pesce died the next day at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s burn unit; the child lived another month, but also died.

In addition to its authorized medical uses -- to rescue divers with “the bends,” or decompression illness caused by too-rapid ascent; gangrene, and carbon monoxide poisoning – hyperbaric oxygen treatment is sometimes used for chronic neurological diseases and other intractable ailments.

The treatment remains controversial, with scant evidence that it helps. In considering Daviglus case, members of the Board of Medicine noted that.

The Broward County investigation showed the chamber had faulty wiring, along with a broken intercom that delayed a rescue. Daviglus and the clinic’s chief technician, Lance Bark, were charged in 2012 with aggravated manslaughter. According to published reports, both pleaded guilty and were sentenced to house arrest and probation.

At the hearing Friday, Daviglus said the fire was the fault of lax maintenance, that the owner of the center paid a $2 million settlement to the boy’s family. Daviglus said he wasn’t responsible for the equipment, adding, “I do not feel it was my fault in any way.”

He said he now regrets his guilty plea, which he gave to avoid the cost of a defense. He appeared before the medical board without an attorney.

Now 85, Daviglus had tentatively agreed to voluntarily surrender his medical license at the board’s last meeting, but then changed his mind. He asked the board to give him permission to treat the homeless and those being released from prison.

Board member Dr. Sarvam TerKonda instead recommended revocation “in light of the seriousness of the crime.” The vote was unanimous.

Another case heard by the Board of Medicine involved DR. Edwardo Williams, a family practitioner for Capital Regional Medical at its Southwood office from 2010 until early 2014.

He was working for a neighborhood health clinic when he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of battery in July 2014, following complaints about sexual misconduct.  At the time, the Department of Health (DOH) issued an emergency order restricting his license to treating only men.

Williams resolved the criminal case by pleading no contest and receiving one year of probation. He came before the Board of Medicine a year ago with a proposed DOH settlement that would have let him resume practice as long as a female licensed professional, such as a nurse, remained in the room when he was with women patients.

But the board rejected the proposed settlement, saying it was too risky.  At that time, members offered to let Williams keep his license only if he restricted his practice to men.

Williams refused and vowed he would prove his innocence at a formal hearing. However, three of his former patients testified at the formal hearing about his sexual advances in the exam room convincingly enough that in March, Administrative Law Judge Lisa Shearer Nelson recommended that Williams’ license be revoked.

He did not attend Friday’s medical board hearing. His attorney, Tim Howard, said Williams is suffering from a heart ailment.  Though Howard objected to several of the administrative hearing findings, the board upheld them all.

An internet search indicates that Williams now lives in Tampa and advertises his services as a consultant to medical practices.

Other cases heard Friday included:

·         Dr. Mohammad Fathi Abdel-Hameed

Florida licensed physicians who get into disciplinary trouble with other states can expect trouble with this state as well, especially if they fail to report the action to Florida DOH within 30 days, as required.

Abdel-Hameed, an OB-GYN in Orlando, gave up his New York license in 2012 and California license in 2013 while under investigation for wrongdoing. On Friday, the Florida Board of Medicine revoked his license here by a 7-to-4 vote.

Their out-of-state investigations were triggered in 2009 when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) revoked Hameed’s license to prescribe narcotics. Health department records didn’t offer details, but at the hearing, it was said the physician had gotten involved with some “bad folks” at clinics in Tampa and Kissimmee and they had signed his name to fraudulent prescriptions.

Hameed, now 77, proposed to  keep his license, so he could provide free medical care to the under-insured and uninsured patients of Central Florida.

·         Dr. Michael Dietch III

In August 2012, armed with a search warrant, police, DEA officers and a health department investigator went through Dietch’s apartment in Port Orange, south of Daytona Beach. According to health department records, the apartment appeared to be serving as an unlicensed pain clinic. Patient files and spiral notebooks recording visits were strewn around on the furniture and floor, and a schedule showed Dietch was planning to see eight patients that morning.

According to the DOH complaint that charges Dietch with malpractice and inappropriate prescribing for five patients, there was no evidence that Dietch performed physical examinations before prescribing methadone and other strong narcotics. He kept prescribing opioids and other drugs even after a patient had overdosed on those medications, the complaint says.

DOH issued an emergency suspension of Dietch’s license in September 2013. Dietch did not attend the hearing, and no one was there to represent him. The medical board revoked his license without debate.

Carol Gentry is a special correspondent for WUSFin Tampa. WUSF is part of Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.