Photo by Jack GouldThere's more bad news for Dr. G. Steven Kooshian, a prominent Newport Beach AIDS physician accused of giving his patients useless injections instead of life-saving drugs.
Multiple sources say officials with the medical board of California are investigating Kooshian after his longtime nurse, Virgil Opinion, filed a July 27 civil suit in which he alleged that the doctor routinely lied to patients about injections over an 11-year period ("My Conscience Is Killing Me," July 27).
"The bottom line for [Kooshian] was the money," Opinion told the Weekly. "Those shots made him a lot of money."
The medical board, which has the authority to temporarily or permanantly revoke a doctor's license to practice, is prohibited by law from publicly commenting on open cases. The board's Sacramento spokeswoman said investigations take an average of 204 days and that more than two years can pass before a guilty doctor faces formal discipline.
Kooshian has refused repeated requests for an interview for more than three weeks. As this publication was going to press, he suggested that the Weekly send him a list of written questions that he would consider answering after consulting with legal counsel. We did not receive any answers by deadline.
However, the doctor did say he is confident that he will be "exonerated in a court of law."
"I understand that you have only one side of the story, [but] I will take back my reputation," said Kooshian. "I have done nothing but give [to his patients and the gay community]."
Eric Davis, Kooshian's lawyer, has described the case as nothing more than "blackmail." Said Davis, "They don't really have any evidence." The doctor also has the vocal support of some current patients (see Letters, page 7).
But at least one former AIDS patient is taking legal action against the doctor. On Aug. 8, Bryan Noble filed a civil suit against Kooshian in Orange County Superior Court. A 42-year-old onetime Laguna Beach resident, Noble began visiting Kooshian last year in hopes of curing his peripheral neuropathy—a painful, disabling side effect of AIDS drugs. He said the doctor promised four treatments of intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), which can cost more than $2,000 per dose. According to the lawsuit, "between Aug. 21 and Oct. 23, Kooshian substituted saline solution in place of the expensive IVIG injections" without Noble's "knowledge and consent." Such a scheme, says Noble, constitutes assault and battery as well as unfair business practices.
Eric Lampel, an Irvine attorney who represents both Opinion and Noble, said, "By employing disgustingly deceptive medical practices, Dr. Kooshian has received ill-gotten gains at the tragic expense of sick patients."
Noble is now under the care of another doctor in Laguna Beach. He says he still suffers physically and emotionally from Kooshian's "outrageous" conduct.
"I feel like Dr. Kooshian has been a monster to the gay community," said Noble, one of the region's most energetic AIDS Walk fund-raisers. "He comes across as so knowledgeable and caring, but how many people have been harmed? I don't want this to go on."
Noble's case has a key witness: Opinion, the nurse who administered Kooshian's shots.
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"Bryan thought he was getting immunoglobulin," said Opinion. "But Dr. Kooshian ordered me to give him only saline. We didn't even have any immunoglobulin in the office. I think that happened three or four times, and Bryan never really felt better."
Several physicians told the Weekly that they can think of no medical, ethical or legal reason for doctors to mislead patients about injections. One doctor said it would be "unconscionable, horrific" to deny needed immunoglobulin treatments to a patient.
Kooshian—who now has offices in Laguna Beach, Garden Grove and Long Beach—launched his practice in 1981 after his medical residency at the University of California, Irvine. Ten years later, an undercover investigation led to his arrest and conviction for illegally dispensing anabolic steroids "for narcissistic body building" during a four-year period. County law-enforcement officials reduced 14 felony counts against Kooshian to misdemeanors and handed him a three-year probation and a $20,000 fine. This week, the state medical board released to the Weekly a report that shows Kooshian completed on May 12, 2000, that agency's probation in the same matter.
Board records also show that Kooshian admitted that his conduct in the steroid case "constituted an extreme departure from standards of care and represents a lack of knowledge or ability in the practice of medicine." He said he was "ashamed and humiliated by the realization of his unprofessional conduct."