The Schindlers' Quack Doctor

Another aspect of the Terri Schiavo situation that hasn't gotten enough attention is the physician they've been using to claim that Terri can get better. And they've got themselves a real doozy, William Hammesfahr. The man's webpage virtually drips with disingenuous self-promotion. I especially love the blaring headline:

Dr. Hammesfahr has been identified as "the first physician to treat patients successfully to restore deficits caused by stroke."

Uh, yeah. Sorry doc, but physicians have been rehabilitating stroke victims to improve their deficits in speech, muscle control, walking, etc, for decades. The 700 Club reported that 40% of Hammesfahr's patients are worse off than Terri, but still showed great improvement. Nonsense. If you look at his webpage and the big list of testimonials to his work, you'll find that almost all of them are for nothing more than rehabilitation work with stroke victims to improve their speech and motor skills. This is routine work done in clinics all over the country, and it has nothing at all to do with a patient in PVS. When he testified before Judge Greer, the judge noted in his ruling that Hammesfahr could not show a single patient name, case study, or any test results, to back up his claims of having successfully rehabilitated patients in worse shape than Terri.

You also have to love the fact that he declares that he was nominated for a Nobel Prize. According to press reports, he claims this on the basis of the fact that his Congressman, enthralled by his miraculous claims, sent a letter to the Nobel committee saying he should be given the Nobel prize in medicine for his work. But in fact, he never received such a nomination. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has strict guidelines on who can nominate others for the prize, and you can do a search for everyone who has ever received a nomination for that award. And surprise, surprise, he's not on the list.

As if that isn't bad enough, the man also had his license suspended for 6 months by the Florida Board of Medicine in 2003 for ethical violations. You can read their ruling here. Naturally, Hammesfahr has been trotted out to repeat his nonsense all over the conservative media, from the 700 Club to Hannity and Colmes. And he's also been cited by our old pals at the Discovery Institute, who call him a "world-renowned expert in cases such as Terri's -- and a Nobel Prize nominee". Credulity, thou art a useful muse.

Update: A reader points out that I didn't read closely enough on the Nobel Prize search engine, which only includes nominees through 1949. I could go back and edit it out, but that would just cover up the mistake. One thing I left out of my post initially was that a PubMed search reveals that Dr. Hammesfahr has not published a single paper in a single journal in the most comprehensive database of medical journals in the world. It's inconceivable that someone could legitimately be nominated for a Nobel Prize without ever publishing in a serious journal. Given that and the press reports indicating that his claim of nomination is based solely on a letter from his Congressman, I think it's still more than safe to say that this claim is nothing more than dishonest self-promotion on his part.

Update #2: Mark Felbers has found the actual letter nominating him for the Nobel Prize and written a very amusing take on the good doctor. You gotta hand it to Rep. Bilirakis. Most congressmen just write letters of recommendation for a military service academy position; this guys goes all the way to the Nobel committee. And here's the punchline to the whole thing - the Congressman nominated him for the "Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine". And it's not even the only time he's nominated one of his constituents for a Nobel Prize, he did it again for another doctor. Unfortunately, he appears to have nominated a lunatic wingnut. The doctor is even claiming now on national television that Terri didn't have a heart attack at all but was killed by her husband. He's become a carnival barker in this whole twisted sideshow. Felbers concludes:

So what's going on here? I'm proud to say that I have no idea. I do know this, though: We'd like the Schiavo case to be about the Right to Live vs. the Right to Die. But it's not. It's a giant, incestuous, silly mess, full of self-aggrandizing quacks, self-righteous maniacs, and under-informed and grandstanding politicians and reporters. I'm not sure what the right thing for Terri Schiavo is, but I'm certain that if I was asked to determine which of the players in this case deserve to be euthanized, she'd be nowhere near the top of my list.

Man, I wish I'd written that.


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The search only goes from 1901 - 1949. Not that I believe he actually was nominated or can do even 10% of what he claims. Sad to see him trying to use other peoples tragedy to gain limelight. Wait, I guess is is just following the lead of our congressment.

Oops, you're right Rick. I didn't read that closely enough. Still, the news reports have said that the basis for his claim of being a Nobel prize nominee is nothing more than a letter from his Congressman. I neglected to add that a search of PubMed shows that he has not published a single paper in a single journal in their database, which would be unheard of for a Nobel Prize nominee.

Aren't lists of Nobel nominees supposed to be kept secret for 50 years. At least that is what the Nobel committee says, although I suppose there is nothing stopping Hammesfahr's Congressman from telling him "Hey, I nominated you".

Hammesfahr reminds me of Joel Wallach, a veterinarian and mineral supplement salesman, who also claims to have been nominated for a Nobel Prize. In reality the guy is a quack.

By Jason Spaceman (not verified) on 24 Mar 2005 #permalink

Jason, I was under the same impression about the secrecy of the Nobel nominations. But in any event, being nominated means very close to nothing. Was the award ever given to him? Nope.

By Mark Paris (not verified) on 24 Mar 2005 #permalink

Hey, I think I'll write a letter to the Nobel Economics Prize committee nominating myself. I wrote a pretty good Econ Master's thesis, after all, so I think I'm about due. :lol

Dr. Hammesfahr's Web site ( indicates that all his peer reviewed articles ( have been published in the MedForum ( online journal LifeLines ( I'm not really qualified to comment on the site or journal. Would anyone else care to? (Sorry, while I once worked as a Web professional, my HTML knowledge has faded fast.)

By Tim Tesar (not verified) on 24 Mar 2005 #permalink

The good ole "Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine". There's nothing quite like bringing peace to the world.... than through medicine?

I nominate this for the unintentional comedy of the month award.

You gotta love it.

Am I the only one that sees a lot of parallels between this debate and the CvE debate?

By Troy Britain (not verified) on 24 Mar 2005 #permalink

Re: Lifelines -- I don't know anything about the journal, will peruse it today. But, hey, look who's on the neurology editorial board!

On a related note, I have been told that Hammesfahr advocates treating ongoing ischemic events with vasodilation. Can anyone more familiar with him confirm?

By WatchfulBabbler (not verified) on 25 Mar 2005 #permalink

Answered my own question by reading the DOH order: Hammesfahr has treated acute stroke events by administering vasodilators, possibly with patients who were not severely hypertensive.

By WatchfulBabbler (not verified) on 25 Mar 2005 #permalink