Hearing starts for doctor accused of using stem cell procedure

Dr. Zannos Grekos, a cardiologist whose practice is in Bonita Springs,  speaks with a seminar attendant after one of his educational seminars about stem cell treatment, using one's own stem cells, for treating heart disease and other medical conditions, on Monday, March 14, 2011, at the Collier County Library. Allie Garza/Staff

Photo by Allie Garza

Dr. Zannos Grekos, a cardiologist whose practice is in Bonita Springs, speaks with a seminar attendant after one of his educational seminars about stem cell treatment, using one's own stem cells, for treating heart disease and other medical conditions, on Monday, March 14, 2011, at the Collier County Library. Allie Garza/Staff

An administrative hearing got underway Tuesday between state health care regulators and Dr. Zannos Grekos, a Bonita Springs cardiologist, regarding his controversial stem cell practice and whether he committed medical malpractice.

More than a dozen observers are present in the Collier County courtroom, many of them supporters of Grekos who have said previously that he changed his life when he injected them with their own stem cells to treat damaged heart muscle, lung tissue or for spinal injuries.

The state Department of Health in 2011 issued an emergency restriction on Grekos medical license, ordering him not to do anything with patients and their own stem cells.

The order came after an investigation found he had had performed stem cell procedure in 2010 on a 69-year-old woman, using her own blood, in hopes it would provide relief against nerve damage in her legs that occurred from earlier breast cancer treatment. After the treatment with Grekos, she suffered brain damage and later was taken off life support.

Three family members of the patient, Domenica Fitzgerald, are present and her husband, John Fitzgerald, will be a witness for the state. The start of the hearing is bittersweet for him and his family.

“We need closure,” he said.

Grekos is fighting the state's complaint and is seeking to have his license reinstated. Before the start of the hearing and during breaks, Grekos greeted his supporters and hugged several of them.

The hearing is before administrative law judge J. Lawrence Johnson, and is scheduled to last four days. The judge has ordered witnesses not to be present in the courtroom except during their testimony.

In opening statements, the prosecutor for the state health department, Robert Milne, said that the treatment Grekos performed had no scientific backing in research, and a neurosurgeon with the University of South Florida will testify about that.

In addition, Milne said that chemotherapy destroys stem cells and so Grekos' extraction of bone marrow aspirate in the patient, to use her stem cells, had no therapeutic value.

"This was literally a blind shot in the dark," Milne said.

Richard Ozelie, Grekos attorney from Boca Raton, gave a brief opening statement and said Fitzgerald had been a patient of Grekos for some time. He refuted one of the state's complaints that she had not been fully informed of the procedure she was undergoing. One of his witnesses will discuss an 11-page consent form that she signed, Ozelie said.

Others in the courtroom include former employees who worked for Grekos at his practice, then called Regenocyte Therapeutic, located on Bonita Beach Road. The practice has been remained, Intercellular Sciences.

The hearing is in courtroom 4-D in the Collier County Courthouse is located at 3315 U.S. 41 E.

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