The Eric Drew Story – A Progression of Miracles
- While donating blood to kids with leukemia at the Red Cross, Eric discovers that he himself has a deadly leukemia and may have only a few days to live.
- Eric’s girlfriend Nicole decides to stay with him through the fight, even after Eric tells her that she should leave and go on with her life
- While going through eight months of heavy chemo at Stanford, Eric rallies hundreds to his cause, starts a foundation that raises almost $250,000 in 2 months, and organizes a bone marrow registration drive attended by over 1000.
- Eric is transferred to Seattle for treatment, where several attempts including a bone marrow transplant over nine months fail to stop his disease.
- While in Seattle, a hospital worker, believing Eric will not survive, steals Eric’s identity to acquire credit cards and go on a shopping spree.
- After months of personal investigation, while continuing to undergo transplant treatment, Eric is able to catch the thief and an arrest is made
- Eric persuades the federal government to pursue prosecution under HIPAA, resulting in the first conviction under the new federal patient privacy act.
- Eric continues to fight this deadly disease despite the failure of the transplant, locating an experimental stem cell procedure in Minnesota that could save his life.
- Eric receives a new immune system from cord blood stem cells, and spends several months barely clinging to life in a Minnesota hospital
- The thief is prosecuted and sentenced. Eric returns to California, begins his miraculous recovery and continues his fight against the identity theft epidemic as well as becoming a spokesperson for patient advocacy.
Here is a summary of Eric’s story as told by Eric himself.
Chapter 1 – Seattle – 2003
As I lay there in my hospital bed seething in pain and feeling the weight and loneliness of my impending doom, I stared out my window at the dreary weather; weather that perfectly matched my mood. The sky was dark, drizzly, a bleak gray monotone; the same as it had been nearly every day since I had been here at the hospital. I could not remember the last time I had gazed on a blue sky, or felt the warmth of sunshine on my shoulders. A light rain started to fall and streams of water began to roll silently down the glass of my steamy window.
The sharp chirp of my cell phone startled me, as I was not supposed to have it on in the hospital due to possible interference with the sensitive electronics keeping us fragile patients alive. Was it my fiancée Nicole? My Dad? What a relief! I desperately needed some comfort. “Mr. Drew? I am with (—bank) collections calling about your overdue balance”. When I told this person that this must be a mistake and that I never opened this account, they recommended that I pay the bill and then file a dispute to keep it from negatively affecting my credit. What was this? Blackmail? I was livid.
“I don’t understand. What more information do you need?” I nearly screamed. “I’ve talked to you people at least five times already. Why is this so hard to grasp?! Someone has obviously stolen my identity and opened these accounts using my name. I haven’t left this hospital in weeks – there’s absolutely no way I could have charged any of these purchases!” After a few more fruitless minutes of pleading with the drone from the credit card company, I slammed down the phone in frustration. I was so upset, I was trembling with fury; or maybe it was just the side-effects of the chemo again. Who could tell anymore?
Laying there in my hospital bed, drenched in a cold sweat, my head swirling, my heart pounding, a dark, desperate, despair began to envelop me. “That’s it,” I thought to myself. “Enough is enough!”. I have had it. I can’t stand this anymore. I’m just so damn tired of it all. Tired of the chemo, the radiation; tired of the horrible side-effects; tired of the constant, excruciating pain and fitful, sleepless nights; tired of the endless rotation of new doctors; and now, I’m sick and tired of these heartless, mindless, incompetent banks and credit card companies that plague me as I’m lying here dying. My family, friends, and even the doctors have advised me to let it go. I have a more important fight to focus on, staying alive. “Just don’t worry about it right now, you can fix your credit when you get through this”, they all said.
Sometimes my decision to stay alive had to be re-made minute by minute, all the time holding on to my predetermined decision to stay alive. It is like hanging on to a jagged cliff, arms burning and hands bleeding, not being able to see above and all the time knowing the obvious consequence of simply letting go. I was constantly forced to make the conscious decision not to let go, which would have been quite easy and would have ended the excruciating pain. I just never got to the point where I was ready to let go. I would choose to hang on and reach for the next possible handhold, then decide again at that moment what I was going to do.
Chapter 2 – Devastation
My “tomorrows” use to be bright. A year earlier, my life couldn’t have been better. I had just returned to the U.S. after working several years in Europe, I had a wonderful, beautiful girlfriend who I was crazy about, and I was a partner in a successful mortgage bank and back in my hometown of Los Gatos, CA. I was in the gym 4 days a week and in excellent shape. I couldn’t have been happier.
Then one afternoon in early December (’02), I went in to the local Red Cross clinic to donate blood platelets to help young leukemia patients. It was routine, something I’d done regularly for over 8 years. This time, however, the visit turned out to be anything but routine. When they took the usual sample to test blood levels, the volunteer nurse mentioned that I didn’t look too well. I actually had been feeling rundown for several weeks, but just assumed it was a nasty flu that I was having problems shaking. When the Red Cross nurse told me that I was borderline anemic and that I needed to see a doctor before donating, I knew something was wrong. I saw my doctor the next day who agreed to see me without an appointment. He examined me but wouldn’t say anything except that I needed further blood tests. There didn’t seem to be any urgency as my doctor said he would be out of town for the rest of the week and to call him on Monday to follow up.
That was on a Wednesday. Two days later on Friday, the doctor (who was supposed to be out of town) paged me and said there were “problems” with my blood test. He wanted me to see a Hematologist (a blood doctor) that next Monday and had already scheduled an appointment. “Doctors never move this fast”, I thought to myself. A feeling of dread and anxiety sank into me. I tried to press him for more information, but he was evasive, and would only say, “It’s too early to tell; it could be a lot of things”. Now, terribly frightened, I spent a long, stressful weekend waiting for my Monday appointment to arrive so I could get some answers. I went about my normal activities, including hosting a large company holiday party, even though I felt so tired, pale, and had several other subtle negative symptoms.
When Monday finally came, I drove myself to the address my doctor had given me. As I pulled into the parking lot, I found myself staring up at a very large sign: “Valley Medical Cancer Center.” Cancer Center?? What am I doing at a cancer center? As I pulled into a parking space, a cold chill ran through my body. “This is just a precaution,” I told myself. It could still be something simple. I quickly found the doctor’s office, entered, and went to check in at the reception desk. There was no one there as it was lunchtime and the doctor had obviously agreed to squeeze me in on his lunch break at the last minute. As I was standing there, I noticed several folders on the desk with the top one labeled, “DREW, ERIC”. I peered down and happened to see the words, “Possible Acute Leukemia” on a sticky note on top of the file. It was like being hit by a train. I couldn’t breath. I felt weak-kneed, light-headed and found myself fighting back tears. My dragging fatigue was instantly replaced by a rush of stinging fear and adrenaline. Images of my life began to flash through my mind.
When the doctor came out to greet me I was on the verge of breaking down. I immediately asked about the “Acute Leukemia” note on my file. He said it was too early to tell and that it could be several things including Mono or maybe even Malaria (since I had traveled in Africa). We would not know for sure without taking a bone marrow sample. I managed to whisper, “So, how soon do we schedule that?” The doctor said, “There’s no time to waste. We’ll do it here, right now.” He then proceeded to inject a little local anesthetic, make an incision in my hip, and then punched a large diameter boring needle into my rear hip bone next to my spine. Despite the local anesthetic which does not reach the inside of the bone, the procedure of sucking out bone marrow felt eerie and excruciatingly painful. Tears trickled down my face. I bit into my lip trying to stifle my moans, and soon recognized the salty, metallic taste of blood in my mouth.
In many states, a nurse licensed to do “conscious sedation” would have sedated me for this procedure. Not in California and some other states, where nurses are not licensed to do a simple sedation. Because it is not cost effective for anesthesiologists to do a five minute procedure, nobody does short sedations. Doctors are forced to do these invasive procedures in their offices using only a short acting local anesthetic. Pets are treated more humanely than humans in most states. My dog was sedated when he had a bone marrow sample taken. This was the first of many eye opening experiences to a politically charged, territorial, and sometimes cruelly inhumane health care system that often places cost effectiveness above patient care. Although this doctor treated me as delicately as possible, it was still very painful and traumatic. Our system needs a lot of work.
I waited two very long days for the biopsy results when my worst fears were confirmed. As the doctor entered the room to give me the results, tears swelled in his eyes. “This is the worst part of my job” he murmured. It was cancer alright, a rare and virulent leukemia normally found in children – known as ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). Worse yet, the tests revealed that my bone marrow was 100% cancerous.
I was told at that point that I probably had less than a week to live without immediate and possibly lethal chemotherapy treatment. He said that if I wanted to live I needed to check into Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto the next morning where he had already scheduled me an appointment. After informing my family of the devastating news, my half sister Alexa, (I had only met a couple of years before) who –ironically- worked at the Fred Hutchinson Transplant Center in Seattle, informed me that if the treatment did not kill me, it would leave me sterile. The doctors at Stanford did not mention any of this, and against their recommendation I put off the chemo for three days (risking my life) to bank some of my genes.
Just like that, my life as I new it was over and all of my dreams shattered. I was about to begin an ordeal beyond my most frightening nightmares.
Chapter 3 – The Black Hole
Alexa immediately flew from Seattle and before I checked into the hospital my family and I sat around the dinner table to examine the treatment options. These options were quite lengthy and written in a scientific gibberish that at that time I could not understand. I chose the most aggressive protocol and began heavy chemo treatments the week before Christmas 2002. I felt like I had been flushed down a black hole.
From the hospital I began doing research on my disease, and found out that there were various types of mutations that cause leukemia, and some are more treatable than others. I began intensely questioning the doctors for answers. Just when I figured that things could not get any worse, I was told that additional tests had discovered that not only do I have one of the most aggressive strains of leukemia, but I also have what is known as the “Philadelphia Chromosome”. This “Philadelphia” mutation makes the leukemia even harder to fight and impossible to eradicate even with the highest doses of chemo and radiation. For several days I experienced Leukemic Paralysis, where my joints became stiff and painful from the high number of cancer cells in my blood.
As a result, my treatments were intensified I was pumped full of chemicals so nasty that I had just as much a chance of dying from the treatments as I did from the cancer. That first round of chemo was one of the worst. The chemicals were so strong that they couldn’t inject them directly into my veins for fear they would collapse. Instead they painfully injected them directly into my spine and into my heart through a large gauge catheter in my chest. I wasn’t thinking of recovery at that point, I just prayed I’d make it through the next treatment. During this three week span of intensive treatments, I had violent seizures and reactions to medications that sent me “code blue” to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) for 24 hour observation.
These treatments went on for months. In their efforts to destroy the cancer cells, the doctors would take me right up to the brink of death, and then allow my body to try to recuperate so they could do it all over again. I had horrible, violent reactions to the treatments. It felt like my skin was on fire and my head was going to burst. I suffered from numerous infections and deadly complications that would frequently put me back in the hospital.
I knew I would have never would have made it this far without the unfailing support of so many people. Friends and colleagues flew in from all over the world to visit and offer their assistance. When I’d first been diagnosed and was in the hospital very ill, I’d told my girlfriend Nicole to just forget about me and go on with her life. I didn’t want her suffering again (she had lost her mother at age sixteen to cancer) by staying with me when there was so little chance of survival. Luckily for me, she ignored my pleas, and her beautiful face was the first sight I saw when becoming conscious again in the ICU.
The intensive treatments appeared to have done their job of wiping out the cancer. Follow-up tests showed no signs of the disease. My physicians at Stanford told me that I was in remission and that I tested negative for the Philadelphia chromosome. The good news was short lived as I knew by this time that my disease was incurable by chemo and radiation alone. A bone marrow transplant was my best and only hope, and without a successful bone marrow transplant, I had no chance of long term survival.
Chapter 4 – Rally For Support
I was desperate to survive and running out of money without a suitable bone marrow donor in sight, so I reached out for support by sending out a “request for help” letter to several places in California. I raised almost $250,000 in just three months, which was much more than I needed, so I started The Eric Drew Foundation to help others in need as well. (www.drewfoundation.org) Most of these funds went directly to various leukemia patients as well as the Red Cross to sponsor bone marrow drives The people in my hometown community of Los Gatos were fantastic and rallied behind me when they heard of my plight. From my sickbed I frantically began looking for a matched donor. I recruited and coordinated volunteer committees and organized the largest bone marrow registration drive that the San Francisco Bay Area has ever conducted (over 1000 people attended). Churches and businesses sponsored fundraising receptions, sports tournaments, and silent auctions that were attended by the Chief of Police, The Mayor, and hundreds of other prominent people from the community. The number of people that rallied for my cause was absolutely amazing and personally inspiring. The town set up a website for me and put “Save our Eric” banners and flyers everywhere. The overwhelming support I received fueled my desire to keep fighting for my life and the lives of the many others I met during my treatment. It is one of the main reasons I am still alive today.
Chapter 5 – Bad News
Unfortunately these efforts to find a match were to no avail. I soon found out that I had a very unique protein on the DNA in my bone marrow which made it impossible to match for a transplant. My best chance for a donor was with a sibling from the same parents, but I was adopted and had no full siblings. Not having any other options I scoured the Internet for conventional treatments, experimental protocols, herbal remedies, mega-vitamin doses, yoga and other holistic approaches. I even allowed a Mongolian shaman (medicine woman) to perform a ritualistic ceremony on me – mostly to placate a friend. I consider myself a Christian and do not really believe in such things, but when you’re dying and all conventional methods have been exhausted, you start grasping at straws and praying a lot. My instinct to survive was so great, that I was willing to try anything anyone offered me.
Chapter 6 – Possibility
The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle was experimenting with half matched transplants and had not had much luck yet, but it was better than my only other choice: checking into a hospice and giving up. I do have five half siblings, three of which are half matches. As an adoptee not knowing any of my blood relatives for most of my life, I had been blessed to have met both of the families of my biological parents. It was sort of thrown in my lap as I had not tried to search for them, but that is another story. I had grown up with a very close and loving family, and had not felt a need to seek out my biological parents. It began when I met my biological mother when I was twenty, and finally just a couple of years before I got sick I met the last link in the chain, my sister Alexa. It is very strange having three families, but also more rewarding and valuable than I could have foreseen.
Alexa continued to urge me to come up to Seattle to try this experimental transplant since the “Fred Hutch” was considered one of the best facilities in the country for bone marrow transplants. I again confirmed that there was little else they could do for me at Stanford, so I made the decision to go and began painfully heavy task of putting all my belongings into storage and giving up my only home. Having my whole life packed into boxes and saying goodbye to everyone in my community was devastating to me, especially since I had such little chance of ever seeing anyone ever again. The depth of sadness that I felt was indescribable.
I checked into the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in September 2003 and was shocked when I met with the doctors for the first time and they were candid with me about my situation. The Philadelphia Chromosome actually had relapsed a few months before, but for some reason Stanford doctors neglected to inform me of this. How could the doctors at Stanford not tell me that my disease had relapsed when they had known for several months???
The “half-match” transplants were very experimental and the odds of a successful procedure drop dramatically, from 50% for a normal bone marrow transplant down to 10%, and even that figure seemed optimistic. Thirteen such procedures had been tried before, with ten of the patients dying, two relapsing, and for the most recent patient, it was too early to tell. The odds scared me, and I cancelled the transplant, choosing instead to try shooting from the hip with experimental mixtures of chemotherapy. There had to be a better way.
About 10 days after arriving in Seattle, I began to receive phone calls and letters thanking me for credit applications I had never submitted. I informed the banks that this was a mistake, which I assumed it was, and went on with my battle. Before coming up to Seattle I had closed almost all my accounts, and had certainly not opened any new ones since my arrival. I figured it must just be a clerical error and I continued to concentrate on the bigger issues at hand.
Chapter 7 – Back To The Drawing Board
The chemo treatments again took their toll. I was constantly nauseous, aching and disoriented and had very little strength and energy. Time was running out for me. On Halloween day 2003 I was so ill from these chemos that were not working and was an emotional wreck, so I decided to go ahead with the transplant after all. Three of my half siblings actually qualified as half matches. It was during some of the pre-surgery tests that the doctors determined that my half-brother Michael, whom I had also recently just met, was actually the best match for the transplant. I spoke with Michael, he selflessly agreed to the procedure, and the surgery was scheduled for just before Thanksgiving.
During this time, the calls from credit card companies continued to come in thanking me for applications I had not submitted. Occasionally, the side-effects from the chemo would subside and I’d experience brief windows where I’d feel well enough to make some phone calls. It was during these infrequent “breaks” that I’d call the banks and explain that I didn’t open any new accounts and to please NOT open any new lines of credit in my name. The person on the phone would thank me for my call and assure me that ‘it would be taken care of’. Invariably, it would not. I had little understanding of Identity Theft at the time, and wrongly figured that this was just a minor inconvenience that the credit card companies would take care of. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The paperwork kept mounting, but there seemed to be fewer and fewer days when I felt well enough to follow up.
Chapter 8 – Sorry! Try Again
As the Thanksgiving transplant date neared and I had undergone the very hard prep chemo and radiation, there was yet another setback: Michael had developed mono and it would be many weeks before he would be well enough to undergo the surgery. My sister Alexa was the next best match, and she immediately agreed to do the surgery. The transplant was scheduled for December 23 2003 and I was informed that I would have to go through the prep chemo and radiation yet again.
Chapter 9 – Identity Theft
Then in December while again preparing for transplant, to add insult to injury, collection agents began sending letters and calling me demanding payment for “my” now delinquent accounts. What accounts!?? As if I didn’t have enough to deal with battling just to stay alive, now I had these vultures ripping at me for payment on accounts that were not mine. They were rude, uncooperative, and treated me as if I were the criminal. They said that they needed signed notarized affidavits to prove that I was who I said I was in order to cancel these accounts. Did they need signed affidavits from the criminal who opened these accounts? Did they do any diligence to make sure it was me before handing a credit card in my name to someone at an address I had never lived at? Obviously not! I was so sick I could barely see, much less leave the hospital to prepare such documents. This was insane! It was now easy to see that someone had stolen my identity and was using my personal information to open new accounts and charge purchases. Since these problems started surfacing the week after my arrival in Seattle and since I hadn’t used my personal information to set up any other accounts in Seattle, it was quite apparent – at least to me – that someone on the hospital staff had stolen my personal information from my hospital records. I immediately thought of HIPAA, the new patient privacy laws, and I realized that I was now a victim of a Federal crime. Someone had obviously thought that I had no chance of making it, and was kicking me while I was down. I was furious.
Again, I notified the hospital of my concerns. Eventually they did send the hospital HIPAA Compliance Officer, but he was patronizing and simply offered to “look into it”. He indicated that they took every precaution to safeguard patient records and that they did check electronically to make sure no unauthorized person had accessed my records. He was confident that my personal information had not been compromised at the hospital, and if it had there was no way I would ever prove it. I demanded that the hospital provide me a list of every hospital employee that could have touched or seen my file since it was sent here from Stanford. He sort of rolled his eyes and again gave me polite lip service. I informed the Seattle Police as well, but was brushed off again. In order to finally get a police report and case number, I had to call the Chief of Police in my home town of Los Gatos California, who had become a familiar supporter and friend.
The doctors and my friends and family were worried about my condition and all advised me to drop this and fix the issue after I got though the transplant. By getting so worked up and emotional, I might actually be hurting the chances of my transplant being successful. At that time I needed to stay focused on staying alive. I would give in and agree and let it go for a day or so, but then I would receive another call from a collection agent and hit the ceiling. It infuriated me that someone would have done this to me while I was already fighting for my life, and the fact that the banks, collection agencies, hospital, and authorities showed little sympathy enraged me even more.
Chapter 10 – Bone Marrow Transplant
Finally I did have to let it go as I began radiation and chemo treatments to prepare for the transplant. My new bone marrow from Alexa was infused into the catheter in my chest on December 23, 2003, over a year after I had been originally diagnosed. I had a violent reaction to the transplant and went into severe convulsions. The dread of experiencing
my second Christmas from a dreary hospital room permeated my body. Again there were some scary moments for my friends and family as I became very ill with infections over the next couple of weeks. Fortunately, I regained consciousness and, slowly but surely, began to recover and build up my strength.
Chapter 11 – Identity Theft – Fighting Back
My condition was declared stable and I was finally released from the hospital in mid January. I had not thought about anything except surviving for weeks. I was just so relieved to be getting out of that prison of a hospital room and going back to my Seattle apartment with my mother to convalesce. Any sense of well being quickly dissolved when I got back from the hospital to find a pile of collection notices and phone messages from unknown creditors. I was so enraged that I vowed to catch the person doing this to me if it was the last thing I did. I had to fight back.
I again notified the Seattle Police who again were totally unhelpful. They gave me every excuse as to why they could do nothing; Higher priority cases, lack of any history of capture and prosecution, and the inability for their limited fraud division resources to chase after crimes of this nature as they were impossible to prove. I didn’t buy it. They also pointed out that many of the fraudulent charges did not take place in the actual city of Seattle so these were not in their jurisdiction, but I was not about to give up. I resolved to launch my own investigation from my sickbed, whatever it took. I decided to take matters into my own hands.
I immediately ordered a comprehensive credit report through the bank in California where I was I still officially Vice President. It contained the precise addresses in Seattle that were being fraudulently used in my name, and I pulled myself out of bed to go to this house and take pictures. I did a property search through contacts in the title business and located an address for the owner of the home, only to find out that he was in prison for bank robbery and murder.
In a response to a letter I sent to this owner’s contact address, I received a call from a woman claiming to be the owner’s mother. She said she knew nothing about the fraud, but gave me the name and number of the renter who was living there (last name Gibson). I called the Gibson woman who denied knowing anything about the fraudulent activities, although all the fraudulent credit cards and merchandise was sent to her house. I reported the names and numbers to the Seattle Police and requested again that they investigate, but they brushed me off once more.
I complained to the hospital again and informed them of the names involved and of the fraudulent address, demanding that they search all employee records for this address and any employees with the name Gibson. They told me that they did a check and came up with nothing. I searched out what post office delivered mail to this address and the names of the supervisors and route carrier. I tore into them about delivering mail in my name, and probably the names of other victims to an address where one woman lived with her two children. Of course the postal employees denied any responsibility of delivering fraudulent mail.
I filled out an FTC report, and began barraging the FBI and the US Postal Inspector’s Office with phone calls. The Postal Inspectors agreed to meet with me and take a statement, but to my knowledge their claims of investigating the case at all were unsubstantiated. The Duty Officers at the FBI hung up on me several times after telling me that FBI doesn’t deal with fraud anymore and to call the Secret Service. The Secret Service? What were they going to do for me? I was so livid that if I had any hair left after the chemo, I would have been pulling it out. I even called the Seattle Mayor’s office and asked if there wasn’t something they could do to get the police involved. I never heard back from them.
Here I was dying from cancer and some heartless individual had taken advantage of my helplessness by stealing my identity and going on a shopping spree in my name. This story was bound to interest someone!
So, I started creating official-looking press releases outlining my dilemma, even though I had no hard evidence that it was a hospital worker. I wrote releases with headlines like:
“Hospital Patient’s Identity Stolen by Medical Worker”
“Police and Hospital Refuse to Investigate”
“Mayor’s Office Refuses to Act”
I sent the press releases to all the local newspapers and television stations with copies to the Associated Press, the network news offices at ABC, NBC and CBS, and anyone else I could think of including the Seattle Mayor’s office again. At first there was no response, but after a couple of weeks I started getting a few inquiries about my story. The Mayor’s office finally called the Seattle Police and instructed them to take a statement, but the excuses for why they could not do anything about it kept piling up.
Finally a breakthrough, the local NBC television affiliate (Seattle’s KING5 News) assigned a reporter to the case and things really started to get moving.
The reporter, Chris Daniels, contacted me and asked if they could come by the hospital and do an interview. Of course I eagerly agreed. Under the pretense of health and security reasons (but more likely the fear of bad publicity and legal consequences) the hospital refused to allow the TV cameras into the hospital. Not to be denied, I demanded that my infusions be stopped and my IV’s be removed. I then had myself wheeled outside of the hospital to give my first TV interview.
I had already built a substantial case file and presented a good argument for my theory. Though still weak, tired and now completely bald from the chemo treatments, I felt a surge of strength and confidence as I was wheeled outside. But when I began to speak, all the fear, frustration, anger, and pain of the past few months flooded back, and my voice began to crack as I tried to fight back the tears. I pulled myself together and managed to get through the interview, and the story ran on the local news several times that evening.
The public outpouring of support was immediate and very gratifying. FINALLY, people were listening.
Tips also started to come in of possible suspects in the case. I even met secretly with several of these tipsters in hopes of getting a lead. I ventured down to the foggy, wet Seattle docks; in dark, isolated areas; barely able to walk, with tubes running out of my chest and wearing a backpack pumping life supporting infusions into me; and met with some very scary individuals. It was like something out of an old gangster flick. Everyone advised against it, but I was desperate for information so it seemed like something I needed to do at the time. None of these leads panned out and the frustration continued to mount. Several weeks went by and I had several near death experiences in the hospital..
Then the big break came.
When the fraudulent bills first started coming in, I’d asked the various stores involved to please review their store video tapes in hopes of identifying the thief who had stolen my identity. I received numerous unhelpful excuses, such as: no cameras in place… the tapes had already been erased… and, it would take too long to review all the video. Basically, nobody was willing to cooperate. Now since my interview had been aired on TV and had now been picked up by the local newspapers, some of the stores were changing their tune. The manager from a Lowes home improvement store contacted me and told me they had isolated video footage of an individual making a purchase in his store at the time and place indicated on one of the receipts. The suspect’s appearance also matched the vague descriptions I had received earlier.
They said that they would only hand the video to authorities, so I again had to call on the reluctant police. They agreed to obtain the video and I arranged for the video to be sent to KING5 News. They aired the footage that evening as their lead story on their 5:00, 7:00 and 11:00 news broadcasts along with another interview with me. Together with a recap of my story, they aired the video along with the following caption, “Have you seen this man?”
My prediction was right all along. The police and the news station received over 30 calls identifying the individual in the video as one Richard Gibson who worked in the transplant clinic I was being treated at and had seen me almost daily over the last 6 months. He did not show up for work the next day and the Police were finally forced to go knocking on his door. Gibson had obviously seen the news reports himself and had gone into hiding. He was nowhere to be found. The police put out an APB and the entire Seattle community was put on alert to look for Richard Gibson.
Three days later, with his face plastered all over the news and with no place to run, Gibson turned himself in, being escorted by his attorney.
Gibson was immediately fired from his job at the hospital, but – unbelievably – was released by the police the next day. I was absolutely livid! After all the pain and suffering, and hard work I’d gone through, how could they possibly let him go!? They probably let him go because they did not have any hard evidence against him. Of course they didn’t. I had all the evidence in my file and they did not attempt to call me to acquire these documents.
The Seattle Police had barely lifted a finger, and I did not trust them to throw the book at this guy. I had spent the last year and a half signing page after page of HIPAA federal patient privacy papers stating how medical workers are responsible for my information and could be help criminally liable if using it for “personal gain”. If this was not an obvious HIPAA violation, then what was? I immediately called the US Justice Department in D.C who put me through to the US Attorney’s Office. I demanded justice from the Justice Dept, and they assured me a prosecutor would be calling me right away.
The next day I received a call from a guy named Vince Lombardi, who was a head Federal Prosecutor in Seattle and claimed to be the grandson of the famous football coach Vince Lombardi. He commended me on my work and assured me that I would be assigned a full time prosecutor and a FBI agent to investigate and prosecute this case. I received calls from both the following day and was assured the Federal government would pursue this case. I met with the FBI several times and handed over my case file, as well as made video statements just in case something happened to me in the meantime.
Chapter 12 – Horror Again
Just about the time I was feeling a little better and relieved that this ordeal was (I thought) over, I found out that my bone marrow transplant from my half-sister had failed. The leukemia was back. I was devastated. Most people do not make it through four leukemia treatments so in a way I was lucky to still be alive. Again I was offered hospice care. “We can make you comfortable” they said.
I offered to go through another experimental transplant and the doctors agreed. My half-brother Michael was over his mono by this time and he again offered to be a donor for a second attempt. The thought of going through all the chemo and radiation treatments again, let alone the painful recovery, was beyond depressing. At this point I had no other options. I wanted to give it some thought and I needed to recuperate further, so I went back home to California to get some rest. The bills and calls from collection agents kept coming, the banks completely disregarding all the evidence that these were fraudulent accounts.
After being released by the police, Gibson apparently thought he was in the clear. He even went so far as to file for Unemployment Benefits! When he was denied benefits, he had the nerve to file an appeal and had to go before a judge to plead his case. Amazingly, in those legal proceedings he admitted that he had stolen my identity and had committed credit fraud. His strategy was unclear, but whatever it was, it backfired. Having incriminated himself, that testimony could be used in the case the Feds were building against Gibson for the HIPAA violation. Incidentally, when Gibson asked the judge to reverse his benefit rejection citing that he simply “needed the money”, the judge retorted that his actions and excuses were outrageous. He stole the information from a dying cancer patient and used the credit cards to buy diamonds, Christmas gifts, camping gear, and other luxury items. The judge could not believe the nerve of this man who showed no remorse.
Chapter 13 – Grasping at Straws Again
While the Justice Department built up their case against Gibson, I went home to California to recuperate, but also continued to research my condition. It appeared that the half match transplants weren’t working in general. Still in fighting mode, I refused to accept defeat and continued my search for other treatment options. I spoke with doctors and researchers in Europe and at every major medical institution around the country. I called all the head scientists and researchers. No US doctor would give me any advice even if they did know of other experimental possibilities. This is largely due to liability issues we have in the US. We are being burned by our own legal system which has doctors so scared to offer open advice – a duty that they are by law obliged to provide – that many people die without knowing all their options. I intend to share my knowledge with others by publishing a medical strategy journal through the Eric Drew Foundation. www.drewfoundation.org
I wasn’t finding any options that I qualified for so I packed my bags and headed back to Seattle to begin preparations for the next half match transplant which still showed very little promise. On my way to Seattle I stopped in Portland Oregon to consult with doctors at the Oregon Health and Science University (another major transplant center where they had developed drugs that were keeping me alive between procedures). They did not have any programs to offer me there either, so I proceeded back to Seattle.
Eventually it was a European (Swiss) physician who suggested I re-examine my options with stem cell transplants from donated umbilical cords. I had looked into this a year before on the suggestion of my fiancé Nicole who had read about it in the news, but the majority of adults who had undergone this procedure at the time had died horrible and painful deaths. It seemed that one cord blood was not enough to seed and grow into an adult immune system. Many hospitals and clinics around the country had cancelled their adult cord blood programs because of this, and it seemed too scary and risky of a procedure for me.
On advice from this Swiss doctor, I went back on to the ClinicalTrials.gov web site and re-contacted the few hospitals in the US that were still experimenting with cord blood stem cells. The new procedures involved stem sell transplants from two donor placentas and umbilical cord bloods instead of one. Even though most of the early patients had died, the patients from the most recent procedures were showing much better results. I learned that they were testing this procedure at the University in Minneapolis, and immediately contacted the hospital. After discussing my case, we arranged for a visit to get some testing done and discuss the pros and cons in greater detail. I flew to Minnesota and met with the doctors and found that they were ready to try an even more experimental procedure – a “double cord blood” transplant. There was a higher risk to this new procedure, but it appeared to be my best chance for long-term survival and recovery.
I returned to Seattle to discuss options with my doctors and in parallel to pursuing the cord blood stem cell transplant, I began pre-surgery treatments for my second half-match transplant, should I decide to take that path.
When I look back at all the pain and agony I’d gone through over the past few years, it’s hard to say that I’ve been “lucky”, but I really have. For one thing, I’m lucky just to be alive. By all my doctor’s prognoses, I should have been dead a long time ago. But so far I’ve been very lucky to ride the curl of the wave of new technology. Nearly every treatment I’ve tried wasn’t available even a year earlier when I was diagnosed. Even the treatments that ultimately failed kept me alive long enough to be around for the next “new thing”. After a week of painful deliberating and forcing doctors into a consensus of agreement that I needed a “fully ablative” procedure, I made the choice to go to Minneapolis and again began packing my life into bags. Even though they had never tried the new procedure on an adult patient with ALL, my gut feeling was that it was my best chance for survival.
Chapter 14 – Stem Cell Transplant
A few weeks later I was lying in my hospital bed in Minnesota thinking I made a huge mistake. The treatments to wipe out any existing cancer – as well as my entire immune system – were worse than anything I’d experienced before. In addition to the higher doses of chemo, I was zapped with 18,000,000,000 volts of gamma radiation per second for 20 minutes a day for four days. My skin was a deep red from burns and I could feel every cell in my body dying.
On July 23 2004, after the intensive ablative procedures to rid my body of the cancer were finished, the new stem cells were infused into my body.
It was about this same time, that I received a call from the U.S. Attorney working on my Identity Theft case. She told me that they were contemplating a plea bargain with Gibson, but that they would leave the decision up to me and do whatever I thought best. At first, I was totally against it, but with me not in the best shape to go through a trial, plus a variety of other factors, I began to see the up side. I told them, “As long as he pleads guilty to the first ever HIPAA violation and gets jail time, go for the deal.” At this point, I was more then happy to put that whole nightmare behind me, and I was also happy to be the first one to set a precedent in a case like this. Gibson took the plea.
Months of agony and near death experiences crept by, but I somehow managed to stay alive. Being too sick to travel, I videotaped a deposition from my hospital bed and sent it to Seattle to be played in court for the .highly publicized sentencing hearing. The story was featured in every major paper in the US, as well as TV network broadcasts around the country. CNN did a live satellite interview with me in Minneapolis, and Dateline NBC is now producing a documentary on the ordeal.
Chapter 15- Richard Gibson Prosecuted
Richard Gibson agreed to the plea deal and, in early November, 2004, he went before Seattle US Federal District Judge Ricardo Martinez for sentencing. Gibson said he was sorry, but the judge didn’t buy it. Gibson said he was broke and needed the money, but the judge said, “You didn’t pay a mortgage, you didn’t pay heating bills. You bought video games and expensive jewelry. You took advantage of the position of trust you were in… for the most base reason of all: greed.”
Judge Martinez was so appalled that he had Gibson dragged out of the court and sent directly to federal prison which was totally unprecedented for a non-violent crime. He sentenced Gibson to 16 months in prison (4-months longer than prosecutors had sought). He was also ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution. The Judge said, “This court considers your behavior in this case to be some of the most deplorable I’ve seen in my 15-years on the bench. It’s true you didn’t murder anyone, but in a very real sense you committed a vicious attack on someone who was fighting for his life.”
When Gibson had first read my medical files and seen that he had a form of leukemia that was normally fatal, he figured I was any easy target and wouldn’t be around long enough to fight back. Richard Gibson was wrong.
Chapter 16 – A new beginning
I now celebrate my second Birthday on July 23, 2004, my stem cell transplant day. On that date, my old immune system died and a brand new “re-booted” system was born. At the time of this writing, I figure I am a little more than a year-old (though quite mature for my age). My one year test results show 100% remission from the leukemia, and I am feeling better than I have felt since my diagnosis nearly three years ago. I have been spending as much time as possible vacationing with my (now) fiancée Nicole, as well as playing sports such as golfing, hiking, kayaking, swimming, boating and surfing. I’m happy, getting healthier, and my outlook is bright.
So what am I going to do now? A lot of things! There was a reason that I was meant to live and given a reprieve from death, and I plan on using the rest of my time here on earth to making the biggest difference I can. Besides dealing with the mess of our inhumane medical system and the three years of sloppy medical bills they have thrown in my lap, I am also very busy with some extremely important projects.
Chapter 17 – The Eric Drew Foundation
One of them is the Eric Drew Foundation. (www.drewfoundation.org) I am continuing to work to help others confronted with cancer and other terminal diseases. The non-profit Foundation is working hard raise money for research and patient care, promoting awareness for stem cell research, promoting the need for the nationalization of a central cord blood stem cell bank, and encourages people to sign up for the National Bone Marrow Donor Data Base which makes finding suitable life-saving donors easier for terminally ill patients.
Our medical system needs a huge overhaul as it facilitates suffering and despair, often withholding the best possible treatments from the sick patients who need them the most. No US doctor ever told me about my options with stem cells as it was “experimental” and did not fit within their “protocols”. It was finally a European doctor who pointed me in that direction which saved my life. If I had not been extremely proactive in searching all of my options, I would not be here today. It is also worth noting that my unwillingness to accept my terminal fate given to me by tens of doctors over almost 2 years was actually characterized as a disorder. At Stanford, the doctors actually diagnosed me with “adjustment disorder” because I was having trouble accepting what they thought was the inevitable. Well this “disorder” has saved my life. Lack of optimism and empathy for patients and an unwillingness of medical staff to admit when they simply do not know and refer patients outside their own institutions is killing millions. An inhumane frequency of rotations of student doctors at teaching facilities is resulting in a severe lack in continuity of care and urgently needs to be addressed. Pharmaceutical and pain management is horrible even at the best facilities, and patients need to know that they have options. I feel it is my duty to give them some.
Chapter 18 – KnightsBridge Castle
The banks that issued Richard Gibson credit without any diligence to make sure it was actually me applying for this credit and conspired to violate my identity with Richard Gibson have been notified multiple times that these accounts were fraudulent. The story has been featured numerous times in the national media, and these banks had to actually submit testimony and statements to the FBI in the prosecution of Richard Gibson. However, for no reason given, they still (as of August 2005) refuse to exonerate me from these accounts and take them off my credit. I am still showing 90 days past due on my credit report for an account that was opened by Richard Gibson which has considerable lowered my credit score and prevented me from receiving approval for a mortgage. Our banks our robbing us of our identities for profit and they must be stopped. The banks charged interest to these fraudulent accounts opened by Gibson and added many of their own finance charges etc to these accounts, on top of refusing to close them in a timely manner when informed that they were fraudulent (so they could charge more fees). The merchants are stuck with actually covering the losses from the merchandise, and the consumers are being stuck with cleaning up the mess which the banks have created. The banks, credit agencies, and credit card companies do not suffer one bit from this and therefore have no motivation to put a stop to this. They simply write it off as a cost of business and may even receive insurance reimbursement, including their ridiculous fees. Who pays for this? The American taxpayer and consumer, you and me. We as Americans are being robbed by our own financial institutions and then being left with the responsibility to clean up their mess. This must stop!
KnightsBridge Castle Inc. (www.knightsbridgecastle.com) – I have founded this company with several other identity theft victims and Silicon Valley execs, and am working hard to build a strong organization to fight the growing threat of identity theft. When my identity was stolen, I had nowhere to turn. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that torturous fear and frustration again. I am passionate about fighting this crime and helping identity theft victims take back their lives.
Chapter 19 – Public Speaking and Legislation
With Dateline NBC producing a documentary and endless people requesting interviews and presentations, I am aggressively speaking as much as possible in public forums as well as to large groups such as corporate gatherings, government organizations, clubs, Rotaries, and speaker forums.
I am pushing for new legislation on patient privacy (HIPAA), patient advocacy, stem cell research, and on the identity theft epidemic.
I am extremely grateful to everyone who helped and supported me through these years of trials and tribulations. I will never forget what you have done for me.