Dr. James Shortt calls himself a "longevity physician." His goal has been to help his patients live better in the hope they'll live longer.
As Contributing Correspondent Anderson Cooper reported earlier this year, many of his longtime patients consider him a savior, a physician on the cutting edge of alternative treatments.
But the death of one of his patients has been ruled a homicide, and investigators have been combing through his files, looking for more.
At issue is the unconventional use of a cheap, readily available chemical, a chemical you probably have in your medicine cabinet right now.
"If I am such a clear and present danger and a murderer, I should be in jail by now," says Shortt, who despite a criminal investigation, was still treating patients when 60 Minutes met him last year at his office on the outskirts of Columbia, S.C.
Shortt got his medical degree on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, and has been practicing now for 13 years. Being a "longevity physician" didn't seem to bother anyone until one of his patients wound up dead.
It turns out Shortt gave her an infusion of a chemical, hydrogen peroxide, that he's given a lot of his patients. It's normally used to clean cuts and scrapes, and has never been FDA-approved for internal use. But for years, Shortt has been putting it in his patients' veins, because he believes hydrogen peroxide can effectively treat illnesses from AIDS to the common cold.
"I think it's an effective treatment for the flu," says Shortt, who also believes that it's effective for multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease, and "as adjunctive therapy" for heart disease. "Things that involve the immune system, viruses, bacteria, sometimes parasites."
He's not the only physician who believes in this treatment. On the Internet, intravenous hydrogen peroxide is just one of a number of alternative therapies touted as secret cures the medical establishment doesn't want you to know about. There's even an association that says it's trained hundreds of doctors how to administer it.
The theory is that hydrogen peroxide releases extra oxygen inside the body, killing viruses and bacteria. Shortt's patients, who get vitamins and nutrients intravenously, swear by hydrogen peroxide, even though there are no large-scale studies that prove it works.
Shortt diagnosed Luann Theinert with allergies, asthma, mononucleosis, and Lyme disease. She says hydrogen peroxide is the only thing that's helped: "When I first came here, I could not walk down the hall. I could hardly breathe."
Stories like hers helped convince Katherine Bibeau, a medical technologist, to travel all the way from Minnesota to see Shortt. Bibeau, a wife and mother of two, had been battling multiple sclerosis for two years, and was looking for any treatment that might keep her out of a wheelchair.
According to her husband, Shortt said hydrogen peroxide was just the thing. "He had said that there was other people who had been in wheelchairs, and had actually gone through treatment and were now walking again," says David Bibeau.
It didn't worry the Bibeaus that Shortt wasn't affiliated with any hospital or university – and that insurance didn't cover most of his treatments.
"He was a licensed medical doctor in Carolina," says Bibeau. "So I put my faith in those credentials."
In March 2004, Shortt gave Katherine Bibeau an infusion of hydrogen peroxide. According to his own records, she complained of "nausea," "leg pain," and later "bruises" with no clear cause.
"She went Tuesday, she went Thursday. And by 11 o'clock on Sunday, she died," says Bibeau. He says Shortt never told him or his wife about any serious risks. "Even if it wasn't effective, it should not have been harmful."
Dr. Clay Nichols is the pathologist who conducted the autopsy. "I was pretty well flabbergasted that somebody would administer this type of therapy intravenously," he says. "I never heard of it before. I would – started questioning myself. Did I miss something in med school?"
In his autopsy report, Nichols says Katherine Bibeau died from "systemic shock" and "DIC," a disorder in which the blood loses its ability to clot. Nichols blames Shortt's treatment, saying "this unfortunate woman died as direct result of ... infusion of hydrogen peroxide." The finding led Richland County's coroner to rule Katherine Bibeau's death a "homicide."
Why did Nichols say it was a homicide? "Because it was a deliberate act to put unapproved drugs into her veins," he says.
Did Shortt intend to kill Katherine Bibeau? "Of course not. And the idea is to bring them back," says Nichols. "This is a cash cow for the people who practice this type of medicine."
Nichols says there is no proven use for intravenous hydrogen peroxide: "It's not the cure for any disease. It's not the treatment for any disease. It's a bogus treatment."
And he's not the only one who thinks so. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society calls intravenous hydrogen peroxide "unproven" and "potentially dangerous." The American Cancer Society warns "there is no evidence that it has value as a treatment for cancer or other diseases."
If you search the medical literature, you won't find any rigorous scientific studies showing this treatment works. You will, however, find a number of cases in which hydrogen peroxide, used internally, caused fatal embolisms and blood disorders.
Shortt argues he's using something different from what caused those deaths, and different from what you can buy in the store. It's a solution that's much more highly diluted and of better quality. He says he's given it to more than 2,000 patients, and it's never harmed anyone, including Katherine Bibeau.
"I didn't hurt that woman. I didn't kill her," says Shortt. "I think it was an unfortunate interaction between her condition and certain medications."
Those medications were prescribed by Katherine Bibeau's physicians in Minnesota to treat multiple sclerosis. The drugs can have serious side effects, but she had been taking them for a year and a half with no apparent problems.
"I believe it's strictly a coincidence," says Shortt, who adds that he can't see how it could have anything to do with hydrogen peroxide.
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