Open Heart Profiteering?

graphic showing EKG waves and a heart surgeon, for story of probe into whether heart surgeons performed unnecessary operations just to make more money AP / CBS

The beating heart on the computer screen is perfectly healthy. Proof, says Sandy Holtz, that her doctor betrayed her when he ordered heart surgery.

"He said you got two choices: You can have it done and live or you can go home and die," says Holtz. "That's what he told me."

"Chest cut open, pried apart, heart's operated on - darndest thing I've ever seen," says her lawyer Dugan Barr.

Barr says Holtz was part of an "epidemic" of unnecessary open-heart surgeries at the Redding Medical Center.

"The jokes on the street have been, 'Don't have a flat tire in front of Redding Medical Center, (or) you'll wind up getting your heart operated on," says Barr.

As CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reports, the suspect surgeries were all performed by Dr. Chae Moon, who ran a busy practice until October, when FBI agents raided the hospital.

Since then a trickle of patients demanding their medical records has grown into a flood of more than 1,800.

"The entire hospital just rotated around Dr. Moon - just one doctor," says nurse Kim Schlenker.

Schlenker says Moon had so many patients lined up he would rush through delicate heart procedures.

"We used to call them firedrills because he was always in a hurry because he had more cases to do," she says

"The sheer numbers and the devastation to life make this one of the most egregious medical frauds in the history of this country," says lawyer Bob Simpson

As the number of questionable surgeries keeps climbing, attorneys say this isn't just medical malpractice. They call it corporate fraud, practiced by the company that runs the hospital, Tenet Health Care.

"Tenet has to stop 'Wall Street medicine,'" says Simpson. "You cannot do health care to drive up a stock price."

With its busy cardiac unit, Redding Medical Center earned $94 million last year for Tenet - an incredible profit for a small regional hospital says Dr. Lee Pearce, a Tenet shareholder who is appalled by the company's practices.

"That in the healthcare industry is unacceptable and, uh ... inherently evil," says Pearce.

Tenet says it's restructuring cardiac services and looking for new leadership. Redding has suspended all cardiovascular surgery.

And Moon stopped treating patients after his malpractice insurance was canceled. He has resisted interviews but said he saved lives in Redding every day.

"My living patients will be my witness," he has said.

But Holtz is one of hundreds of patients who may be witnesses for the other side, and incredibly, so is her mother Pearl Stewart.

After Holtz had a heart bypass, Moon ordered her mother to have one, too.

Stewart says she is mad.

And as the lawsuits pile up, it's clear hundreds of others are also mad about what happened to their healthy hearts.
  • Jaime Holguin

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