Felon can practice medicine

Talk about bizarre.

Dr. Ralph Conti is a convicted felon awaiting sentencing on fraud charges growing out of a stem cell implant scheme —- he and accomplice Alfred Sapse are described by the Food and Drug Administration as “predators who prey on … vulnerable victims” – but the pediatrician who faces a possible long run in prison can still make life or death decisions involving the children of Southern Nevada.

Yes, Conti, who implanted placental tissue in the abdomens of patients after Sapse convinced several chronically ill people that he and Conti, for a nice chunk of money, could treat the incurable —- still has his medical license.

Last Wednesday, a federal court jury —- following a trial that stretched over four weeks —- found the 51-year-old Conti and 86-year-old Sapse, a Romanian-educated physician not licensed in the United States, guilty of conspiracy and fraud after less than four hours of deliberation. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 27.

On Thursday, Doug Cooper, executive director of the medical board, said the board must be sure how the mail and wire fraud offenses Conti was convicted of relate to the practice of medicine before action is taken against Conti’s license.

“We haven’t seen anything in detail,” he explained.

Cooper said he didn’t think there is an immediate threat to public safety and the board could decide what to do in the future.

Given Conti’s mindset, there are few people who could be more dangerous to children or adults.

This is a doctor who cut on people based only on what Sapse had to say, which was never supported by anyone of regard either in medicine or science. The fact that Sapse impressed Conti with a picture of himself with famous researchers Linus Pauling and Jonas Salk doesn’t mean Sapse has a cure for multiple sclerosis or hang nails.

Conti is a physician who, as other doctors worked in 2006 to save the life of Deanna Wise and her unborn child at St. Rose Dominican Hospital-Siena, interrupted to ask the sobbing Wise if he could take her placenta for research.

At best, Conti, who prosecutors say ran up gambling debts, is a doctor with a screw loose; at worst, he’s a sociopath, an individual without a conscience.

What kind of physician would cut into already terribly sick people and implant tissue, as Conti did, without consulting other professionals about whether the procedure had any viability?

“It was one of those procedures where you’re making it up as you go along,” Conti testified.

Say what?

Conti also admitted in court he didn’t test the tissue used in the procedure —- at least two patients got infections —- to see whether it contained stem cells. And he admitted he didn’t test the process on animals before performing it on humans.

“Sometimes, you have to take a shot in the dark and think outside the box,” Conti said.

Is this the way a doctor should deal with human life?

Keep in mind this is not a doctor who had a sterling record even before his conviction.

The medical board’s website shows that in 2002 the board received —- in relation to a 1998 tragedy —- a report of a $999,999.99 settlement made by Conti’s insurance firm after the doctor’s “alleged failure to properly assess a newborn and discover bowel obstruction, which led to cardiac arrest … resulting in brain injury, causing developmental delays and cerebral palsy.”

Also in 2002, this time in relation to a 1996 tragedy, the board learned that Conti’s insurance firm settled for $2 million after it was alleged that he misdiagnosed a 20-month-old with tonsillitis —- a child that later that evening would be “taken to the hospital with seizures” and diagnosed with viral encephalitis “and suffered severe damage.”

Oh, well. If board members won’t take Dr. Ralph Conti’s license away, perhaps they’ll allow the former head of the board’s investigative committee, Dr. Dipak Desai, soon to go on trial for murder, to perform a colonoscopy on him —- maybe we’ll at least find out what’s going on in that head of his.

Paul Harasim is the medical reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His column appears Mondays. Harasim can be reached at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.

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