Listen to this article now

Kelly Hanna’s life took a devastating turn in 2020 when her leg was amputated. The procedure was a result of a Michigan doctor’s damaging intervention, leaving her in a state of shock and disbelief. Little did she know that her case was just one example of a growing trend where doctors and medical device companies prioritize profit over patient well-being.

At the center of this disturbing phenomenon is a booming industry that exploits vulnerable patients suffering from peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition affecting approximately 12 million Americans. The disease involves the accumulation of plaque in leg arteries, which can lead to reduced blood flow, severe symptoms, and even amputations in extreme cases.

While most patients with PAD require minimal treatment, a significant number undergo risky procedures, such as atherectomies, performed by doctors who prioritize financial gain. These doctors often claim to be “leg savers” and promise improved blood flow and prevention of amputations. However, the reality is often far from the promised outcomes.

One example is Dr. Jihad Mustapha, a Michigan-based physician who has gained notoriety for his aggressive approach to treating PAD. Mustapha is not an underground practitioner but has become a prominent figure in this controversial field. With the financial backing of medical device manufacturers, he has built a thriving practice that puts profits above patient welfare.

The rise in vascular procedures, particularly atherectomies, can be attributed to two key factors. First, changes in Medicare reimbursement policies incentivized doctors to perform procedures outside of hospitals, leading to the establishment of outpatient clinics. Atherectomies became a lucrative venture, with doctors charging exorbitant fees for the procedure. Second, device companies, including major players like Abbott Laboratories and Boston Scientific, capitalized on this growing market by providing training, financial support, and incentives to doctors.

The consequences of this profit-driven approach are alarming. Research has shown that atherectomies pose significant risks, with patients undergoing these procedures more likely to face amputations compared to those who do not. Surgeons from nearby hospitals have reported seeing a surge in patients with complications from unnecessary procedures performed by doctors like Mustapha.

Regrettably, the vascular industry operates with minimal regulation, allowing doctors to exploit the system without facing serious consequences. Many medical devices receive clearance from the Food and Drug Administration without comprehensive data demonstrating their effectiveness. Furthermore, the outpatient clinics where these procedures are performed are not subjected to the same safety regulations as hospitals, creating an environment ripe for abuse.

The impact on patients is devastating. Cheryl McAdams, one of Mustapha’s former patients, experienced internal bleeding when a device he used broke off during a procedure. She required emergency surgery, and her case led to a complaint lodged against Mustapha. Similarly, Kelly Hanna, who underwent multiple procedures by Mustapha, ultimately faced amputation.

These stories are not isolated incidents. Fifteen surgeons interviewed by The New York Times have witnessed numerous cases of patients suffering harm due to unnecessary procedures performed in vascular clinics. The financial toll is substantial, with Medicare payments for atherectomies totaling $1.4 billion, largely benefiting a select few doctors who also receive payments from device manufacturers.

To address this urgent issue, greater transparency, accountability, and regulatory oversight are necessary. Stricter regulations should be put in place to ensure that doctors prioritize patient well-being over financial gain. The FDA should enforce rigorous evaluation processes for medical devices, requiring comprehensive evidence of their safety and effectiveness.

Patients deserve better. It is essential to shine a light on this dark side of vascular procedures, advocating for systemic changes that prioritize patient welfare, protect limbs, and prevent unnecessary suffering. By holding doctors and device companies accountable, we can build a healthcare system that truly puts patients first.