RALEIGH, N.C. — The first rule of medicine is "Do no harm." But some patients of Charlotte physician Dr. Joseph Jemsek say he broke that rule.
Heather Jenkins of Huntersville said Jemsek diagnosed her with Lyme disease and treated her with intravenous antibiotics for months. The intravenous line into her body kept getting infected. Finally she ended up in her local emergency room. She was retested and told she did not have Lyme disease.
"Science may be uncertain, but it is certain that because of his negligence I almost died," said patient Heather Jenkins.
Jenkins and others testified before the North Carolina Medical Board Wednesday. Jemsek is accused of unprofessional conduct for the way he diagnosed and treated 10 patients. In total, Jemsek has treated 2,000 for Lyme Disease from 42 states and several foreign countries. Patients said his international reputation made them trust him.
Patsy Ingram said when Jemsek diagnosed her with Lyme, she didn't question it. She said the drugs he treated her with completely immobilized her to the point that she could not get out of bed. She is now off the drugs and said she's feeling like herself again for the first time in years, with much regret.
"I really believed him," said Ingram. "Every fiber of me believed he was doing was what right for me."
Joe Jabkiewicz says his 41-year-old wife, Kathy, mother of twin boys, died of a morphine overdose while she was under Jemsek's care for Lyme Disease.
"My wife didn't sign up to be a guinea pig," said Joe Jabkiewicz. "I don't want him to hurt anybody else, I really don't."
Doctors testified at the hearing that Jemsek's handling of these cases was reckless and put patients at significant risk.
"When patients don't have the right diagnosis; No. 1, they get treated for the wrong thing, it doesn't help them," said infectious diseases specialist Dr. Meera Kelley. "No. 2, they don't the chance to get treated for what they really have that could help them, so patients can be harmed."
But Jemsek is not without support. More than 100 people stood in a long line in the rain to come into the hearing and show their support for Jemsek. They said he is a cutting edge scientist who is exposing an under-diagnosed illness, not unlike AIDS and HIV were in the 1980's. They say his unorthodox and aggressive treatments are forward-thinking and exactly what's needed to tackle what they see as a growing epidemic.
Dr. Beth Jordan is the president of the North Carolina Lyme Disease Foundation. She also has Lyme disease and is a patient of Jemsek's.
"This man has been an acknowledged expert in his field a leader in the HIV field, and now is repeating that in the Lyme community," said Jordan.
Barbara Hower's husband, Robert, is permanently disabled. Jemsek diagnosed him with Lyme disease.
"I think that he looks over the research extremely carefully," said Hower. "I think he has a superb understanding of what this bacteria does."
Ultimately, the board will decide whether Jemsek followed his oath. The hearing should go through Thursday.
Dr. Jemsek declined talk to WRAL, but he does plan to take the stand on his own behalf. If he is found guilty of unprofessional conduct, he could have his medical license suspended or permanently revoked.