(WXYZ) — Lawyers say a local doctor falsely diagnosed hundreds of metro Detroit children with epilepsy, and they say he did it for money. Many families are now suing, but it’s taken 11 years to finally have their day in court.
Dr. Yasser Awaad is in the middle of the second of 267 lawsuits filed against him. Lawyers say hundreds of kids were forced to endure grueling medical tests multiple times, including forcing kids to stay awake all night so they could be sleep deprived. But they never actually needed them.
Mariah Martinez was just 9 years old when she said she was referred to Awaad for headaches. At the time, he worked for Oakwood Healthcare, which is now owned by Beaumont.
"I feel like it shouldn’t be this hard to go see a doctor," Martinez said. "Shouldn’t be this hard to get up in the morning."
Martinez says Awaad wanted her to undergo an electroencephalogram, or EEG, and then told her she had epilepsy. Martinez says she was confused because she’d never had a seizure.
“I didn’t know what epilepsy was at that point," she said.
"Were you scared?" 7 Investigator Heather Catallo asked.
Mariah Martinez was just 9 when she went to see Dr. Yasser Awaad for headaches. He diagnosed her with a form of epilepsy. Tonight on @wxyzdetroit at 6PM, I'll show you how she's just 1 of 100s of local young people he's accused of falsely diagnosing. @michiganLARA @MIAttyGen pic.twitter.com/mE0ZaJHxcv— Heather Catallo WXYZ (@HeatherCatallo) October 21, 2019
"Yeah, being told you’re abnormal, or the tests are abnormal, means I’m not like everyone else, and at that age, you just want to fit in," Martinez responded.
She said the anti-seizure medication not only made her drowsy – it made her headaches worse.
"I kind of withdrew into myself, didn’t want to be around people," she added.
It wasn’t until Awaad suddenly left his practice four years later and she saw a new doctor that Martinez says she found out – she never had epilepsy.
"I was very angry at first, very angry," she said.
"What have you lost?" Catallo asked.
"I lost, I feel like a piece of my childhood. All the time I could have been learning to do things, playing with the other kids, I could have friends, I could have joined a sport – you never know," she said.
Martinez was not alone.
"I think it’s despicable and deplorable that he would do this to any innocent child let alone several hundred," medical malpractice lawyer Brian McKeen said. McKeen and a team of attorneys are suing Awaad and the hospital.
"When you look at all the evidence in this case, Heather, the conclusion is inescapable. That this was done intentionally," he said.
McKeen alleges Awaad ran an EEG mill: the more tests he ran on the kids, the more money he made.
"As a result of the bonus, you made hundreds of thousands of dollars, didn't you?" McKeen asked Awaad at a 2018 deposition.
"I was entitled to," Awaad said.
Brian McKeen is a medial malpractice lawyer who's representing 267 people suing a doctor accused of falsely diagnosing them with epilepsy. On @wxyzdetroit 6PM, I'll show you why McKeen thinks the state didn't do enough to discipline the doctor @michiganLARA @MIAttyGen pic.twitter.com/0UBpgIO8qY— Heather Catallo WXYZ (@HeatherCatallo) October 21, 2019
McKeen says one of Awaad’s pediatric neurology colleagues even blew the whistle on him to Oakwood administrators back in 2003.
"She told them he’s doing unnecessary EEGs, he’s diagnosing kids with epilepsy that don’t have it and he’s giving kids unnecessary drugs and they did not do anything about it. They swept it under the rug," McKeen said.
McKeen says Awaad also falsely diagnosed Martinez’s sister with epilepsy; and in a different family, he’s accused of misdiagnosing 4 out of 5 siblings.
Hundreds of medical licensing records obtained by the 7 Investigators show that since 2010, the state has been accusing Awaad of violating the public health code for wrongly diagnosing kids with epilepsy. The state complaints use words like negligence and incompetence to describe Dr. Awaad, yet he still held on to his medical license.
In 2012, he was put on probation and had to pay a $10,000 fine.
"That wasn’t enough. They should suspend his license. He should never be allowed the opportunity to practice medicine and violate the trust of any other patient," McKeen said.
In June, a jury awarded Mariah Martinez $3 million for her case against Dr. Awaad. Another of the 267 trials is currently under way in Wayne County Circuit Court.
"I don’t know if I’ll ever be 100 percent," Martinez said.
We reached out to Beaumont and their lawyer, but they can't comment due to the pending litigation and patient privacy laws. A spokesman also told us they have not had a relationship with Awaad since 2017.
Beaumont spokesman Mark Geary declined to provide someone to talk to the 7 Investigators on camera. Geary released this statement to us:
“The litigation involving Dr. Yasser Awaad and Oakwood Healthcare dates back more than a decade to 2007. We cannot comment about the specifics of this case or others because of pending legal proceedings and patient privacy laws.
After his employment with Oakwood Healthcare, Dr. Awaad was briefly employed by Beaumont to provide medical education and clinical curriculum for residents and medical students in pediatric neurology. He completed this work in 2017 and has not had any relationship with Beaumont since that time.”
Meanwhile, the Michigan Attorney General's Office has filed another administrative complaint against Awaad’s license. The hearing was supposed to be held next week, but Awaad’s lawyers asked for it to be delayed. It’s now scheduled in March.