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Cancer patients win interdict to keep dismissed ‘miracle worker’ oncologist at Vincent Pallotti despite his ‘fetishes’

Cancer patients win interdict to keep dismissed ‘miracle worker’ oncologist at Vincent Pallotti despite his ‘fetishes’
Patients of well-known Cape Town oncologist Louis Kathan (centre) have obtained an interdict barring LIfe Healthcare from suspending the doctor from practising and admission privileges at the Vincent Palotti Hospital in Cape Town. (Photo: Peter Wharton-Hood / Linkedin | Illustration: Lisa Nelson)

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.

Patient testimonials

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

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Interesting idea: if you are very good at your job you can behave appallingly and get away with it. Never mind the other staff who resign to escape his disgusting behaviour.

  • Mish M says:

    How can one compare patient experience with him to staff experience. The patient spends about 1 hour and staff member 8-12 hours on a daily basis with him. Of course he won’t show his true colours to his patients, he will always put his best foot forward to get them to come back. People seriously lack common sense😒absolutely appalling.

  • Naz E says:

    Instead of hiding behind patient testimonials, why not interview the staff that worked before the current staff? Question the previous manager of that department.

    • Con Tester says:

      Indeed. In this specific case, we have blatantly UNbalanced reporting, a malaise that frequently infects reports on scientific or technical matters. Emotion cannot diminish or supplant facts.

      • Naz E says:

        Blantly unbalanced is an understatement. Life should dig a bit deeper and ask the previous staff, there are many incidences of this. His disgusting comments are nothing new, and he obviously felt invincible when the previous manager would consistently cover up for him, especially when a complaint was laid with him, we’d have to hear, “the Doctor is king!”
        Disgusting how some men will cover up for another man and absolutely nullify a womens comments and feelings of discomfort.
        And the fact that he brought patients into this. Cancer patients that are already going through the most, must now speak on his behalf, because he can’t stand on his own 2 feet and take accountability for his words and actions!
        And his not the only oncologist in Cape town, there are better and more genuine oncologists.
        I honestly hope the HPCSA hears about this.

  • Laura Bergh says:

    So what do you do with an individual who is superb at their work and an out-the-box thinker who may not have a filter on his mouth? The world is made up of a diverse workforce and each brings (hopefully) a contribution to their workplace. But each also brings the pathology of past experiences and their upbringing with them. Can we consider playing to people’s strengths? To understanding where people’s limitations and weaknesses lie and not play into those areas? I’m not condoning for one second that we brush over inappropriate language and behaviour; just that knee-jerk responses in today’s workplace seem to be spreading virally. If we believe ourselves and our workplace to be mature and emotionally aware, then can this kind of scenario not be handled with zero-indifference, rather than zero-intolerance? I.e. a policy that promotes ‘safety’ in the workplace by consistently addressing disrespectful behaviour such that the response is to use a restorative approach that leads to accountability, healing, and justice, rather than ‘punishment’ that may lead to resentment, shame, and isolation? Get somebody in to work emotionally with this highly prized doctor and you may be surprised at what changes.

    • Mish M says:

      A leopard never changes its spots. I said what I said. You can bring whatever professional you want to work “emotionally” with him, he isn’t going to change. If you have a shitty character, you have a shitty character. Period. I said what I said

  • A B says:

    At what point will the line be drawn though? In any profession, no matter how skilled/talented an individual is, they are obliged to conduct themselves in a professional manner. This is a dangerous precedent to set.

  • Rianna Wentzel says:

    Sounds like a narcissist to me … and why is it that only the patients had their say? I would also like to know what the victims had to say about his behaviour. When you THINK you’ve got it all … you DON’T.

    • Mish M says:

      AGREED!!!say it louder for the people in the back

    • Greeff Kotzé says:

      Agreed — this level of deification is eyebrow-raising, at the very least. One often finds that, when people display a slavish devotion to an authority figure, the subject of their adoration has played an active and calculating role in cultivating that. Shady churches exploit the same dynamic to abuse vulnerable people every day.

      Of course, there is not enough information here to draw any definitive conclusions on. But it is sufficient to arouse a modicum of healthy suspicion.

  • penn says:

    This is typical of who has the power.
    I hope Louis Kathan defends himself successfully.
    He is a very special medical specialist. I know a number of patients who have experienced professional, successful and very empathetic care from him and his office.
    This cannot be a ” new thing”. I bet it has been going on for years and they want him out.
    I wonder how many oncologists were sent to watch the rugby in France.

    • Mish M says:

      What does France have anything to do with doing one’s job? Just because you are good at your job, does not give you the right to treat people with no respect or not respect their boundaries.

  • Enver Klein says:

    The below sheds light on the fact that he doesn’t want to change his approach to the staff: “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.

  • Bob Dubery says:

    This is interesting. How can an employee, a senior employee at that, of Life be practicing medicine in a hospital that Life own?

    • garth taylor says:

      Hospital Dynamics – they dont have his expertise in any of the other Drs onboard.

  • Gled Shonta says:

    This really looks like another Doc with god complex.
    He really needs to get off his pedestal and interact civilly with everyone, as we all should.

  • garth taylor says:

    people are so easy to judge from outside looking in – with absolutely no understanding of the dynamics on how operations run inside these hospitals.
    this could be a matter of a simple chirp or a joke that was made and taken totally out of context. people should stop being sensitive and egotistical.
    favoritism and racism is a big game in these big institutions – some of us work to get to where we are – others pull the pants down to get to where they are. i said what i said. if they want you out – they will make things happen to get you out.
    the patients cannot be bought or bribed – staff, easily. we all have a price…

    I dont know Dr Kathan – but he seems authentic and real – society is so obsessed with perfection and fake that they look for it in every situation.

    people here making comments like they never made a bad joke or comment.

    • virginia crawford says:

      Please describe a professional context where discussing lap dancing is an acceptable “chirp”.

  • virginia crawford says:

    It’s quite disheartening reading some views, so please enlighten me. If someone is a great dentist, mechanic, teacher, but he beats his wife – is that ok? A great whatever who faces animal abuse charges – is that ok? A bit of embezzlement on the side? A liar? A drunk driver? Where is the line?

  • Michael Millsap says:

    Dr. Kathan is a brilliant, professional, gentleman and my oncologist since 2017. That’s when I faced the nightmarish prospect of a third cranial op to remove a re-occurring meningioma tumor. He designed a radiology treatment which mitigated the need for the op and successfully ridded me of this stubborn tumor. I am in debt to him and will follow him wherever that might be…

    • Naz E says:

      Dr Kathan absolutely did not design ANY “radiology treatment” (you meant to say “radiotherapy technique”) EVER!
      Not only are there many oncologists that are use the same or better techniques but they are gentleman in public and private.

      Being good at something doesn’t give you the right harass women behind closed doors then run to your patients that only see one side of you to cover up for you.

    • Hendrik Pienaar says:

      Certainly did not do your spelling prowess any good – “ridded” does nit exist….
      Your meningioma will unfortunately be back.
      Life protects a narcissist who holds himself above good conduct and professionalism.

  • mderoose says:

    Thanks to give me the occasion to give comment about Dr Kathan. In 2020 I was diagnosed with Lymphoma cancer phase 4.
    I was very sick and fragile. Thanks to a colleague I met Dr Kathan. I was impressed by his knowledge and analyse, his great empathy and commitment. Explaining step by step the treatments with chemotherapy by pictures and video. His explanation, advise, words of courage and using modern advanced technology was awesome. A great and fantastic Doctor
    who saved my life. He is also informed about the last
    knowledge and information about cancer treatments in some of the best hospitals of the world. He is an example how to communicate with patients. He is an humble and sincere person. We need more Doctors like Louis Kathan.

    • Mish M says:

      Being a good doctor and being a shitty colleague is two totally different things. Let’s not confuse issues now.
      Also, if anybody saved your life, it was God. Kathan just knew what treatment you needed thanks to the knowledge he obtained at University. Which he also obtained through the blessing of God.

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