‘A LITTLE BIT TOO LATE’
Patty Aspinwall, who testified at Dr. Dipak Desai’s criminal trial after contracting hepatitis C from a 2007 procedure at his Shadow Lane clinic, wasn’t at his sentencing Thursday: “It seemed almost anti-climactic.”
She believed he would get a tough sentence and thinks he did. She expects the man, who she has had nightmares about, to die behind bars.
“If he’s as unhealthy as his lawyer says he is, he won’t last long,” she said.
Testifying against the man who made her ill wasn’t easy, she said.
“I couldn’t look at him.”
Aspinwall, who now has a civil case pending in relation to her infection, wasn’t impressed with the claims by Richard Wright, Desai’s attorney, about his client’s remorse.
“It’s a little bit too late for that,” the 60-year-old said. “He has to answer to his God, and I have to continue living life the best I can.”
She wears surgical gloves when she cooks for her family to make sure she doesn’t spread her infection.
“I’ve been dealing with this for five years,” she said. “Every six months when I go to the doctor I keep worrying that the results of tests are going to be bad for me. I keep expecting the other shoe to drop.”
But, she is excited about a new drug in the pipeline to fight her disease.
“Its effects aren’t supposed to be as bad on the patient as what we have now and it’s supposed to have a 99 percent cure rate.”
JUSTICE FOR HER FATHER’S death
Marjorie Meana-Strong and her husband, Jeff Strong, arrived early Thursday — first, in fact — to see “if justice was done.”
Desai was convicted for the murder of Meana-Strong’s father, Rodolfo “Rudy” Meana, who died of hepatitis C contracted at Desai’s clinic.
They wore light blue T-shirts that read, “Always My Hero, In Memory of Rudy,” on the front, and “If You Are Happy, You Will be Alright” on the back.
“My dad told us when we were growing up that it was so important to be happy,” Meana-Strong said, closing her eyes. “And we want to do that.”
A retired colonel who served heroically against terrorists in the Philippines, Rodolfo Meana was “very sick” when he went home to die, his daughter said.
“But he was never bitter,” Jeff Strong said. “He said it was just something he had to deal with.”
Tears welled in the eyes of Marlene Meana, Meana-Strong’s sister, after the judge sentenced Desai. Overcome with emotion, she had a difficult time speaking.
Jeff Strong, was succinct as he left the courtroom: “Justice was done.”
MEDICAL COMMUNITY TAKES A HIT
Dr. Dale Carrison, the 73-year-old chief of staff at University Medical Center, said that the sentencing of Desai is unlikely to help the medical community soon.
“There’s no question that what he did hurt all doctors here,” he said. “Unfortunately, people tend to look at what one doctor did and think all doctors act that way. I’ve heard them talk. But we have some great doctors here, and I can tell you they’re not acting like he did. We take an oath to handle patients the best we can and we take that seriously.”
Only the passage of time, with doctors practicing good medicine and not “betraying their patients’ trust,” will end negative feelings against the medical community, he said.
He said that even today people don’t get colonoscopies because of how Desai practiced.
“They’re afraid it’s not safe,” he said. “That’s so sad because it’s a way to detect, and ultimately cure, colon cancer.”
Local efforts to engage in medical tourism have also been hurt, he said.
“There’s no way all this negative publicity that’s come out of Las Vegas helps us,” he said.
Dr. Joseph Thornton, a local gastroenterologist, echoed concerns that Desai’s sentencing won’t end some doubts about the Las Vegas medical community.
“I still have people ask me to this day whether colonoscopies are safe here and if we’re cleaning the scopes,” he said. “Ordinarily, if you have a crisis in your community, people forget pretty soon. But this has been going on in the news longer than anything I can remember. I even had someone bring me in a newspaper from Morocco that had a story on it. This story has been all over the world.”
Thornton, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, now teaches two classes a month to patients who need to undergo colonoscopies.
“We have to do that to reassure them that it’s safe,” he said. “That’s never been done anywhere before.”
Thornton said that just as the MGM fire in the 1980s made hotels the safest in the country, he now believes the hepatitis C outbreak has made Las Vegas the safest place to have a colonoscopy.
“There’s more inspectors and regulations,” he said.
Thornton knew Desai as a man “who always looked down on other doctors” because of the money he made from the largest gastroenterology practice in town.
“He always thought he was superior to the rest of us, and that hubris can lead to problems,” he said. “I thought he might get into trouble one day over monetary problems, but not sanitary problems. I just couldn’t imagine he would do what he did.”
PAUL HARASIM/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL