Friday, March 25, 2005

Hammesfahr Redux

My post about Dr. Hammesfahr below has provoked some questions via email. So, before I stop writing about him I thought I'd encapsulate more his story in a bullet-pointed post here. Some of this is in my previous post, but some is new.
  • Yes, Dr. Hammesfahr is an M.D., and he's a board certified neurologist.
  • No, he was not truly nominated for a Nobel Prize. At this writing, his claim of being Nobel Nominated is on his web page, meaning he is forwarding this misinformation himself.
  • He was disciplined by the Medical Board of Florida for charging for services he did not provide.
  • He has not published in legitimate peer-reviewed journals. Indeed, a 1999 St. Petersburg Times piece notes "His articles have been turned down by well-known medical journals," so it's not for lack of trying.
  • He is listed as one of the "Promoters of Questionable Methods" on, and an analysis of his treatments is posted there as well.
  • The only journal he's published in is one which is on a domain that's registered to his office (and for which the administrative contact phone number is his own office phone). He is on the editorial board, as is an employee of his and another Hammesfahr, likely a relative. The submission guidelines for this journal are laughable to anyone who has actually seen guidelines for a true medical or scientific journal.
  • The therapeutic regimen he has proposed has not been tested in any rigorous scientific manner; everything I've seen written about it is anecdotal.
  • He makes wild claims about his therapy being useful for a wide variety -- literally dozens -- of etiologically unrelated neurological and psychiatric disorders, without scientific validation.
  • He has not treated Teresa Schiavo: he examined her as one of five MDs which a Florida court asked to evaluate her. Two MDs were selected by Michael Schiavo, two (Hammesfahr, a neurologist, the other a radiologic/hyperbaric physician) by the Schindlers, and one neurologist was appointed by the court. All the neurologists except for Hammesfahr found her in a persistent vegetative state (the hyperbaric MD agreed with Hammesfahr that she wasn't). Here's what Theresa Schiavo's Guardian ad Litem (his report [PDF] is extremely worthwhile reading) wrote about the medical evidence of these five physicians (PDF File; pp. 16-17):
    The scientific quality, value and relevance of the testimony varied. The two neurologists testifying for Michael Schiavo provided strong, academically based, and scientifically supported evidence that was reasonably deemed clear and convincing by the court. Of the two physicians testifying for the Schindlers, only one was a neurologist, the other was a radiologist/hyperbaric physician. The testimony of the Schindler’s physicians was substantially anecdotal, and was reasonably deemed to be not clear and convincing.

    The fifth physician, chosen by the court because the two parties could not agree, presented scientifically grounded, academically based evidence that was reasonably deemed to be clear and convincing by the court.
    Following exhaustive testimony and the viewing of video tapes, the trial court concluded that no substantial evidence had been presented to indicate any promising treatment that might improve Theresa’s cognition. The court sought to glean scientific, case, research-based foundations for the contentions of the Schindler’s physician experts, but received principally anecdotal information.

    Evidence presented by Michael Schiavo’s two physicians and the fifth physician selected by the court was reasonably deemed clear and convincing in support of Theresa being in a persistent vegetative state with no hope for improvement.

  • On his webpage, Hammesfahr posts the following as an apparent selling point for his therapy:

    Dr. Hammesfahr has been identified as

    In fact, this quote is taken from the disciplinary action (PDF of the record of that proceeding) that found Hammesfahr had not provided services for which a patient had paid. Another issue in the disciplinary action was whether Hammesfahr had actually engaged in false advertising by claiming his results were "peer-reviewed" and for saying he was the first to use this treatment to help patients. The paragraph from which Hammesfahr extracted the quote above is, in full:

    The Judge essentially finds that, since Hammesfahr had run his so-called results by some friendly peers, he had actually had his results "peer-reviewed" in that narrow sense. And, since he was the first (and at the time, only) to use his therapies and some of his patients got better during the time he was treating them, the strict wording of his advertising was true.

    It's hard to believe, but the guy is using that snippet, from a Judge in Florida which indicates that no other doctors are using his therapy, as a testament on his webpage. Amazing.

    Also, the judge basically finds that his therapy is "alternative," which is protected under Florida law about alternative medicine. Thus we begin the slide to allowing doctors to use untested therapies.

Finally, to address a broader issue, many people seem to wonder why scientific evaluation should be necessary, if it seems that Dr. Hammesfahr is "helping people."

Since Dr. Hammesfahr resorts to anecdote, I'll illustrate the issues that arise with an anecdote. Let's say a patient was seen by Dr. Hammesfahr and given a treatment regimen to take home and have her physician implement. When this patient returned home, her doctor refused to administer the drugs Hammesfahr had indicated. She improved greatly anyway.

Would she likely have improved even more without paying for Hammesfahr's therapy? Would she have improved less, or the same amount? Would his therapies impede or improve her progress? These questions cannot be answered by a collection of anecdotes, no matter how high they mount. They must be assessed with rigorous, scientifically oriented, peer-reviewed studies.

Then, at least those who pay Dr. Hammesfahr money would know if they're throwing it away.

UPDATE: Here's a report by Dr. Ronald Cranford about the Schiavo case. It's interesting overall, and it includes lot more information about Hammesfahr, as well as other health care personnel who diverge from the overwhelming medical consensus in the case. Predictably, Dr. Cranford has been slimed for his medical expertise. I suppose he's not surprised.

FURTHER UPDATE: A look at two other doctors hired by the Schindlers. And a challenge to Dr. Bernadine Healey.


Anonymous said...

Fabulous work, riffle. Thanks very much. I hope this is widely tracked!

Anonymous said...

Riffle, you have done an excellent job of tearing down Dr. Hammesfahr. You have shown a lot of inconsistencies in his web site and with some of his billing practices. The problem I have is that my Autistic son has been seeing Dr. Hammesfahr for a year now with fantastic results. To you and all the others that still want to believe that we have learned all there is in this world, I am sure his practices seem a little scary. The only thing that concerns me is that my son is getting better when mainstream physicians said there was no hope. Sorry to dissappoint you, but I am a happy client Dr. Hammesfahr.

riffle said...

Joe wrote: "To you and all the others that still want to believe that we have learned all there is in this world, I am sure his practices seem a little scary."

To the contrary, I don't think we've learned all there is. That's why scientific and medical journals are important -- to advance knowledge. Hammesfahr can't manage to publish ina real journal.

And I don't find Hammesfahr scary myself. He's sure as hell not going to be allowed to treat me or anyone close to me. I'd not let anyone I care about visit his office or the practice of any MD who makes wild claims but can't support it with anything more than anecdotes.

I guess when Theresa Schiavo's autopsy is released and reveals the true extent of her brain injury, we'll be able to see how accurate Dr. Hammefahr was when he said she wasn't that bad.

I hope any progress your child is seeing is not being impeded either by the untested therapies of Dr. Hammesfahr or by you not seeking a treatment that has true evidentiary basis.

Anonymous said...

YOu are the man. i was looking for this information for another discussion that I am having
Let the truth be told!

Anonymous said...

Riffle, we have a disabled son who is benefiting from Dr. Hammesfahr's approach to his problem. We were confident in trying his approach because of two other (less effective) therapies (both alternative) that indicated we were moving in the right direction: vasodilation.

As of this point in time (12/05), our son is now able to be in a day program that he would not have been eligible for heretofore because of the behaviors that have ceased or decreased under Dr. Hammesfahr's vasodilation. Over the course of years (24, to be exact), and many different approaches to ameliorate or eliminate his problems, we have been able to come to an understanding of the nature and parameters of his specific dysfunction. He is autistic but fits the picture on EEG of a closed-head injury and in other respects occult cerebral palsy.

Sometimes, as declared in the Christmas movie "Polar Express" (and by other notables like Jesus), "Believing is seeing."

-Willing To Try

Anonymous said...

"I hope any progress your child is seeing is not being impeded either by the untested therapies of Dr. Hammesfahr or by you not seeking a treatment that has true evidentiary basis."

You know the old saying, "Ask the man that owns one"? When you actually have a family member with neurological problems and have spent decades trying all the "tested" therapies where the proponents will tell you they have perhaps one stand-out case that worked (but don't count on it working for your individual), you learn to figure out pretty quickly whether or not a therapy is actually worth thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of effort invested. Dr. Hammesfahr's therapies are not "untested" when you're testing them yourself and seeing results.

It took the "enlightened" medical community 50 years to adopt Semmelweis's simple tradition-honored (Jewish) practice of cleaning one's hands between the morgue and the childbed. Lots of therapies have been examined by Congress and a report never issued, I'll warrant. I know of two right now that have met that fate.

The medico-pharmaceutical conglomerate that has us all captive "by the short hair" will ultimately be the death of most of us.

There IS no such thing as a therapy for autism with "true evidentiary basis." It's a crap shoot and we're all on our own -- based on my long, expensive, hard experience.

Eventually, given the current statistics, you are fated to be related to an autistic yourself, so please keep these thoughts in mind. Twenty years ago I predicted that sooner or later a few Congress critters would be the proud relatives of autistics, and, thank God, two of the best-hearted ones, Hyde and Burton, ended up being in our camp.

The exciting thing, to me, is that his approach is so basic and simple that it's applicable to ALL types of brain injury and not just here and there. Apparently, all brain insults from whatever source result in an inflammatory-like response of vasoconstriction; this is the little factoid that the big-wigs are missing and that Hammesfahr got -- because he has the humility to see genius in the simplest things because of his own faith life. In the Scriptures it states, "Not many mighty, not many noble" will be found in God's camp, and that God "resists the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humility is the key to all true genius.

-Willing To Try (and have, over and over, with varying results, and Dr. H's approach is the standout best one so far and worth shouting about)

mike said...

I spent 10 years trying to find a cure for a debilitating fluorescent light (flickering lights) sensitivity. I am unable to stand under these lights for more than 10-15 minutes before an onslaught of severe neurological dysfuction occurs including massive headaches, disequilibrium, impaired speech, impaired processing (problem solving, math skills, complete sentences, etc.) irritated dry and burning eyes, hot spells through my body, a nervous system reaction resembling a low level "tasing" feeling, etc. I tried for years on different prescriptions and medications, CAT scans, MRI scans, EEG scans, and nothing resolved this issue. After seeing Dr. Hammeshahr in 2003 from NJ, I experienced massive improvements through his approach and follow up medication to improve blood pressure and circulation. While I didn't heal 100%, I went from a 20-25% functioning level under lights to about a 75% functioning level, allowing me to hold a normal job and with the use of a hat and tinted glasses, succeed in a work environment I was previously unable to maneuver. In short, his methods saved my life and allow me to continue living with relative comfort at my job under the fluorescents. I can't vouch for other patients' success stories but can only assure you his methods were unbelievably succesfuly in helping me recover. I still seek further help to get from 75% to 100% but will always be grateful for the help Dr. Hammesfahr provided and giving me my life back after many years. His methods make sense, appeal to common sense for allowing more blood and oxygen to circulate through the body and brain, and in my case, work where no other tried method has worked. Please keep an open mind when people try to demonize a method simply because it's new and not popularized yet. Please email me with any questions about my experience.

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