Cancer patients win interdict to keep dismissed ‘miracle worker’ oncologist at Vincent Pallotti despite his ‘fetishes’
The Western Cape High Court issued a provisional interdict on Monday to keep the medical privileges of Dr Louis Kathan, described by his patients as a ‘miracle worker’, in place at Vincent Pallotti Hospital after he was dismissed from the Life Healthcare group for harassment.
Seventeen cancer patients who attribute their still being alive to the “miracle work” of oncologist Dr Louis Kathan have obtained a provisional interdict against the Life Healthcare group after Kathan was dismissed for harassment.
The interdict, issued by Judge Derek Wille on Monday, will keep Kathan’s admission and practising privileges at the Vincent Pallotti Hospital in place until the decision to dismiss him as the chief medical officer for the group can be subjected to judicial review.
Craig Koekemoer, business operations executive for Life Healthcare Holdings, explained in papers before the court that the professional staff at the hospital’s radiotherapy unit had very scarce skills and were highly sought after.
He said two of the staff members in this unit had resigned and cited Kathan’s behaviour as the reason for them leaving. He said there was “strong and alarming evidence” that Kathan was harassing staff members.
In the first instance, Kathan used a racial slur, and in the second, he used a homophobic word. Koekemoer continued that Kathan was accused of “making a myriad of statements regarding his fetish for blondes, lap dances and various allusions to strip clubs”.
Kathan admitted the statements, but said his intention was not to harass anyone, impair the dignity of anybody, or cause them harm.
After his dismissal, he lodged an internal appeal which was dismissed. He also filed a complaint that it was he who was being harassed by those who complained about him.
“While litigation was pending about his position at the hospital, Life Healthcare appointed a chaperone to go around with Kathan,” Koekemoer said.
“The chaperone has not been entirely successful in protecting the radiation therapy unit’s staff, as Kathan had threatened and intimidated them,” he said.
He also complained that Kathan has “solicited support” from colleagues, subordinates, patients and service providers. Life Healthcare has received 68 letters of support for Kathan.
Some of these letters state that on the medical side, Kathan is “unmatched and forward-thinking” and often finds solutions where others do not.
The dispute between Kathan and the Life Healthcare group has been sent for private mediation, which was not successful and is not before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
Kathan is suing the hospital for breach of contract. He brought a similar application to that of his patients, but this was dismissed by the court for lack of urgency.
In more than a hundred pages of affidavits, 14 of his patients expressed their support for their doctor, saying the news that he would be leaving Vincent Pallotti was “devastating”, as was the further complication that he currently can’t work at any other hospital.
Other doctors and specialists have also explained why Kathan is so highly regarded.
Patients said they were “immeasurably unsettled” by the news.
Those who submitted affidavits said Kathan had never said anything inappropriate to them and that the claims against him were “at odds” with how his patients had experienced him.
The affidavits call him an outstanding medical doctor and said the hospital was making them choose between the “oncologist who has saved and prolonged their lives” and the hi-tech machine, at the hospital, that he used to treat them. They added that cancer patients should not be forced to choose.
The patients’ legal team, advocate Anton Katz SC, instructed by attorney Carlo Timothy, argued that when private institutions make decisions that have public effects, these decisions are also subject to the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act and the Constitution and that the patients should have been allowed to be heard.
One of Kathan’s patients, Wilmay Davis, was diagnosed with a brain tumour five years ago. She had to have surgery then chemotherapy, followed by treatment for another brain tumour.
“When I first met Dr Kathan, he told me not to worry, that he would heal me. He was true to his word. What I went through with Dr Kathan is magical. I have built up a relationship with [him] and I regard it as a friendship too.”
She said she treasured the way he would talk to her as a patient and how he would comfort her.
“It is almost impossible to describe cancer in words,” she said. “A Grade 4 tumour is like dying. I went through a stage where I faced that reality and it is always there in the shadows.”
Davis said she was “greatly distressed” by the news.
“I cannot say for certain when the day will come that I need another miracle, and I hope to God it is not soon, but if it does, I ask that I am not forced to choose between this wonderful man and the hospital with the best radiotherapy machines,” she said.
“I truly believe that it was this combination of excellence that saved my life.”
Roshni Ratajee, a patient who Life Healthcare claimed to be unable to find in their records, said Kathan was “always smiling”. She survived breast cancer in 2017, but the cancer returned.
“He was extremely sympathetic and kind.”
She described him as an excellent doctor who always gave his full attention to his patients.
“He will always be my first doctor of choice,” she said.
Another patient, Patricia Noble, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, said Kathan was “a perfect fit” for her in her treatment.
She explained that she had heart problems and had almost died during Covid.
“Dr Kathan has been phenomenal; open-minded and sensitive,” she said.
She said he had provided a safety net in the form of a team consisting of a psychiatrist, social worker, dietician and physiotherapist when she was very anxious about starting chemotherapy.
“I cannot imagine surviving this with anyone else,” she said. “He gave me the chance to start with chemotherapy. I was terrified because of my heart. The manner in which he controlled things speaks volumes.”
Noble said she needed further treatment and more surgeries, and feared that her anxiety would return if Kathan wasn’t there.
She said he was her “oncologist for life. He is my safety net and the reason I can fight this”. DM