In 1993, at a hearing on health care fraud held by the Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, James Looney described how he and other patients had been severely harmed by an unapproved AIDS remedy (Viroxan) marketed by Stephen Herman, M.D. and Valentine Birds, M.D.
Documents from the Medical Board of California describe how Viroxin was “manufactured” from plant sources in a laboratory located in the kitchen of Herman’s home. An undercover agent reported how Herman had told patients that Viroxin had been tested, had no side effects, and had been proven effective against AIDS and many other diseases. The patients were then instructed to see Birds to have a catheter placed into a chest vein so that the Viroxin could be administered. When Herman subsequently sold Viroxan to the board’s agent, he was arrested and the Board accused the pair of gross negligence, incompetence, and acts of dishonesty.
Herman surrendered his medical license. Birds’s license was revoked for (a) administering an unapproved drug, (b) failing to perform adequate histories and physical examinations, (c) failing to develop adequate treatment plans and (d) creating false preoperative histories to justify the implantation of the catheters. At the Congressional hearing, Looney described how the treatment had triggered life-threatening infections.
Testimony of James Looney
Shortly after being diagnosed HIV-positive, I presented to a physician who told me the truth about my disease, a truth I found unsatisfactory. It is a terminal illness for which medicine does not have a definitive cure. As anyone would, when confronted with a serious illness, I sought a second opinion from a physician with a large HIV/AIDS practice.
Valentine Birds, M.D., was, for all appearances, a very respectable physician who talked knowledgeably, or so it appeared, about drugs and remedies he claimed would cure the disease or raise the T-4 helper cell levels to a point at which I could look forward to a normal life and a normal life expectancy.
One aspect of his credibility which impressed me most was his association with an apparently respectable AMI Hospital which seemed to be actively involved in cooperating with the testing of this drug. For example, Dr. Birds would have monthly meetings at the AMI Hospital attended by 50 to 60 patients each month in which Dr. Birds would discuss his modalities of treatment and indoctrinate patients into his philosophy of medicine. Later, the AMI Hospital agreed to discount the surgical fees in connection with the insertion of the Hickman catheter, an indwelling plastic tube into my superior vena cava at the entrance of my heart for infusion of the drug Viroxan.
I learned about Viroxan when the principal investigator, Stephen Herman, M.D., made a presentation at one of the Valentine Birds’ monthly meetings. Herman discussed the experience of other HIV and AIDS patients who had said they had spectacular results on the drug, their T-4 cells elevating substantially, the primary index of immune health.
I was provided promotional material with the graphs and charts demonstrating that Viroxan would elevate these indices of immune health and cure the symptoms of AIDS and prevent opportunistic infections. Most importantly I was told that in addition to these physicians that the AMI Hospital was involved in this alleged “phase I clinical trial.” It had agreed to discount its hospital fees to induce the Viroxan patients to take part in the experiment and to be catheterized for the infusion of the drug. A document entitled, “Approximate Cost for Hickman Catheter Insertion” discussed that the hospital had cut its costs as low as possible to make this modality for infusion of Viroxan affordable.
Based upon the endorsement of the hospital and the recommendations of Drs. Herman and Birds, I had the Hickman catheter placed at the hospital. Once the Viroxan extravasated from the catheter into the tissues of my chest. Also, the Viroxan mummified the tissues of my hip. The experimenters did no preclinical testing for safety. It scares me how callously they took risks with my life inducing me to pour quantities of this caustic material into my heart through delicate valve that they could not have known would survive the substance any better than the mummified muscle tissue.
I believe that my life has been foreshortened by the fact that while on these fraudulent treatments I was led to forgo legitimate efficacious modalities of treatment which prolong life. Others of the Viroxan patients died, some horrible deaths, their bodies racked by septicemia. One was Mark Snyder who was found lying in a bathtub where he had lain for 3 days before being found by his landlady who called Dr. Birds, only to be told that it would be “all right.” Shortly thereafter, he was dead, and the autopsy demonstrated the rampant systemic infection. Some of my colleagues in this litigation, one woman a cancer patient, who was treated with Viroxan became horribly septicemic and had to be hospitalized a number of times and is now disabled. Another after having the catheter inserted was so fearful about the device he pleaded with Dr. Birds and the AMI Hospital surgeon to remove this indwelling catheter. The response of the doctors was to ask how he intended to pay for the removal. His insurance had just expired. He waited for an appointment at a public hospital, but first developed a systemic infection which led him to be hospitalized in convulsion and nearly dead. Others developed PCP pneumonia by reason of the failure of these physicians to prophylax or diagnose or treat the disease. Many have gone on to develop opportunistic diseases. These are my colleagues in this test litigation which we all hope will send a message by the example we nope to make of this AIDS fraud and the physicians and hospital who so cynically exploited us. To deter health fraud is the purpose of our test litigation.
The Viroxan scandal is not past tense. Stephen Herman, now operates his international AIDS fraud scheme from his new location in Florida, selling the drug, manufactured now at the Kenya Medical Research Institute through the Bahamas and Tijuana. My attorney has discovered contracts between Herman and KEMRI providing for the commercial exploitation of African AIDS patients. My attorney and the epidemiologist who headed up the Centers for Disease Control AIDS Fraud Task Force jointly wrote the Centers for Disease Control AIDS Fraud Task Force Global Program on AIDS, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, providing the documentation of the local scandal and the international conspiracy to exploit Third World countries with this horrible product. The Chairman of the organization, Global Program, in turn advised the Kenyan Foreign Ministry, however, it is our information that the use of Viroxan in African patients continues.
We are all very encouraged that we are no longer alone in this battle. The subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice and in particular the chairman are to be congratulated for their sensitivity in recognizing this plague of health fraud upon us and for seeking to fashion a solution.
Documents in the malpractice suits against Birds indicate that his wrongdoing went far beyond his use of Viroxan. In an expert declaration, Michael S. Gottlieb, M.D., the researcher who had identified AIDS as a new disease, noted that Birds also (a) promoted the use of homeopathic products, all of which were useless, (b) used “black boxes with dials and wires with electrodes” (an Acuscope and two other devices) to determine “organ frequencies” and “toxic frequencies,” (c) prescribed a useless “typhoid vaccine protocol” to treat AIDS, (d) used vitamin C infusions instead of standard antibiotics to treat patients with life-threatening AIDS-related pneumonia, and (e) discouraged the use of AZT, the antiviral drug that could extend the life of AIDS patients.
This article was revised on May 19, 2019.