HELLFRIED Sartori says he was helping his patients, but most died after his unconventional treatments.
IMMACULATELY dressed and happy to talk to reporters outside Perth’s Coroner’s Court, Hellfried Sartori cuts a bizarre figure as he speaks about his role in a highly contentious cancer therapy that has mesmerised Western Australia’s medical fraternity.
Details of the scandal could not be more appalling: desperate patients from across the world handing over tens of thousands of dollars in the hope that cocktails of dangerous minerals, industrial solvents and paint strippers would save them, and the unsurprising evidence that of the 22 patients treated with the concoctions in Australia between 2004 and 2005, 21 have died.
Five of those patients were treated at the leafy Mosman Park home of Perth GP Alexandra Boyd in May 2005, with seriously ill patients vomiting green fluid and suffering severe diarrhoea.
Sufferers were administered the treatment via intravenous lines while family members were asked to inject one of the substances, laetrile, also known as B17, without gloves.
Four of the five patients were dead within two weeks. The fifth, 29-year-old Carmelo Vinciullo, died a month later.
It is these five people that brought Sartori – who now calls himself Abdul-Haqq Sartori after converting to Islam- from Austria to give evidence at the inquest.
Speaking to The Weekend Australian this week, the 72-year-old remains defiant when asked if he was responsible for any of the five deaths. He sighs and then pauses.
“That’s a very difficult question. Let me ask you: in which way would I be specifically responsible?” he asks. “In the case of four of these deaths I have to lay the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the hospital. There’s no doubt in my mind that if they had been properly cared for, all four of them, they would have not only survived but come back so much better, because what they were undergoing was a healing crisis and this is really the most dangerous phase of this.”
The self-assured Sartori admitted to WA deputy coroner Evelyn Vicker that he is still selling the treatment via the internet from his home in Vienna.
He had claimed that he was registered to practise medicine in Austria, but yesterday discovered at the inquest that he is no longer on the list of accredited doctors in the country where he trained as a doctor in the 1960s. The inquest has established that he was jailed for practising medicine in the US without a licence in the late 90s.
Sartori says his father and grandfather were doctors and his interest in cancer grew from an entrenched suspicion of conventional treatments, following his mother’s death after her breast cancer spread, most likely to the liver.
He says he believed his mother’s cancer was caused by the shock and stress she endured when his baby brother became seriously ill.
“One of my siblings was acutely ill and then she developed this breast cancer . . . It looked like he was going to die, but obviously he made it. You have this reaction and it takes about three months for this cancer to grow in size.”
According to Sartori, almost all cancers are caused by an acute shock after a traumatic event, and he says that if this event involves a son or daughter, breast cancer tumours will grow on the left breast, as was the case with his mother.
“All of these tumours have a biological sense; for the child, this tumour grows as long as the conflict is active; after she [the mother] sees the child has recovered, the tumour stops growing.
“Then there is certain bacteria, they remove this cancer from the breast and all is gone.”
He says that because nature is itself curing, his treatment is only needed in terminal cancer patients, where it can be used with a success rate as high as 98 per cent.
Describing how his treatment developed after he studied alternative medicine at a university in Kazakhstan, Sartori admits he is no genius.
“I just had this kind of a vision that there are people in the world [who] don’t get cancer, and if a primary idea behind my therapies is we do the same that people that don’t get cancer do, this would be the approach. But this is no stroke of genius, anyone could come up with this idea.”
Hooked up to intravenous lines, patients taking part in the therapy are administered dangerously high levels of the mineral caesium chloride, laetrile and DMSO, a solvent used to strip paint. Almost immediately after the treatment, the patients became seriously ill with severe diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and, most worryingly, irregular heart rhythms, due to the caesium.
But Sartori maintains that the effects are positive because it means cancer toxins are exiting the body.
Patients are also told they must think positively, distance themselves from anyone negative and avoid mainstream medicine.
Sartori has never been registered to practise medicine in Australia but his therapy arrived here after he formed a partnership with Northern Territory mechanic Keith Preston, whose wife Kathleen was treated by the banned doctor in Thailand.
Kathleen died a month after the treatment, but despite this Preston continued to have great faith in Sartori, telling people that he had partially or completely cured his dead wife’s cancer.
Working with another alternative medicine guru, Paul Rana, the trio charged patients up to $40,000 for the treatment.
Sartori says he was paid $5000 a patient and he dictated the therapy, via email and telephone, from his then base in Chiang Mai to a registered nurse. He says he also spoke to Boyd about conventional intervention.
Sartori maintains that the patients he treated were in their final stages of cancer and had little other hope.
“What was I supposed to do, say: ‘Go home and die’?” he asks.
But as counsel assisting the coroner Celia Kemp emphasised to him this week, experts believe that one of the patients treated in Perth, 68-year-old Pia Bosso, would have had two years left to live had she not been part of the dangerous treatment. As with all the patients, the inquest is investigating whether the therapy contributed to her death.
For Natalie Squire, whose mother, Sandra McCarty, died 11 days after starting the therapy, the treatment robbed her of final goodbyes. She says until the day her 53-year-old mother died, she was telling hospital doctors not to administer morphine and trying to stay positive in an attempt to adhere to Sartori’s “crazy rules”. “That was one of the most disturbing parts. We missed those opportunities to say goodbye because we were championing their cause,” she says.
Detectives from WA’s Major Crime Squad, who initially investigated the series of deaths in 2005 as part of Operation Lantana, have sat listening to Sartori’s evidence this week.
Future charges against all the key players are possible but Sartori says he is “fearless” when it comes to the possibility of arrest.
More will be revealed when the inquest resumes again next year and hears from Boyd, who has so far refused to comment to the media on her role in the treatment.