The former chief oncologist for the BC Cancer Agency for the North admitted to using an non-approved treatment but insisted it was for the best interest of his patient.
Dr. Suresh Katakkar resigned last month after the BC Cancer Agency launched an investigation into his treatment practices. In a letter released to some of his patients and obtained by the Citizen, Katakkar explained why he chose an unconventional treatment on a local patient.
"To get the permission to do something like this would have taken a long long time and (the) patient would not have made it that long," Katakkar wrote. "So what I did was with the full consent of the patient and the husband and the family and I felt as a physician I am morally obligated to do it as I have been fortunate to see a response in a similar situation."
Katakkar couldn't be reached directly for comment and Dr. Charles Blanke, vice-president of systematic therapy at the cancer agency, wouldn't confirm the specifics of the suspension.
Holly Hill was the patient Katakkar was referring to in the letter. The 33-year-old died in May as a result of a blood infection she acquired while her immune system was depressed as a result of an aggressive chemotherapy regime.
Katakkar used two treatments on Hill that ran afoul of the cancer agency's regulations. First, he was able to acquire more powerful chemotherapy drugs that, while approved by Health Canada, was not covered by the cancer agency. Then he created a vaccine made from Hill's own blood tissue, which he gave to family members to inject.
Hill's father, former Prince George-Peace River MP Jay Hill, said he thinks the methods Katakkar used on his daughter came to light after her death and were one of the reasons he was suspended.
"He knew that at the time, he discussed it with us," Jay Hill said. "He knew that he was taking a risk with his reputation, ultimately with his legacy and he was willing to do that because he felt that he shouldn't give up on her because of her youth."
It's a refrain that's been repeated by many of Katakkar's patients all week when news of his departure first became public. They spoke of a doctor who was always willing to go the extra mile for his patients, even if that meant having to find ways around the cancer agency's protocols.
Rob Fedorkiw believes he got a second lease on life because Katakkar didn't give up on him.
"He gave us a glimmer of hope," Fedorkiw's wife Terry said. "He said, 'Oh yes, there is a chemotherapy we can start' and he said we can start as soon as today."
In Rob Fedorkiw's case, he didn't respond well to the typical treatment for his type of cancer as proscribed by the cancer agency, but Katakkar found a way to try a different treatment which has helped him continue to battle the disease.
"We understand that the protocols are based on outcomes and how patients respond to the protocols," Terry said. "If 80 per cent of the population responds, then that will be the protocol that will be given to the patients of a certain form of cancer. Unfortunately Rob didn't fit into that criteria, he didn't do well with the BC protocol."
Although Katakkar was doing what his patients wanted by finding ways around the protocols, he was risking his standing with the cancer agency. When he resigned his position last month, he also lost his credentials to practice medicine in the province.
Katakkar came to Prince George last year after decades of working in Arizona. He had no formal disciplinary action taken against him during his time in the United States, but had one non-disciplinary advisory letter written to him in 1982 for a non-approved therapy.
Even though the onoclogist broke the rules in the treatment of his daughter, Hill said what happened to Katakkar wasn't fair.
"My feeling is that it's wrong what this suspension has done to his reputation and the legacy that he'll leave," he said. "He deserves to be treated far better than that. I think the BC Cancer Agency needs to explain themselves."
And he believes his daughter would feel the same way.
"I know that Holly would want me to speak out on behalf of the doctor," he said. "If she was still alive she would be appalled at what's transpired partly because of her."