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Brigham, hospital critic clash as wife has surgery

Judge faults hospital for searches, escorts

Dr. Hooman Noorchashm and his wife, Dr. Amy Reed, at their home in Needham.
Dr. Hooman Noorchashm and his wife, Dr. Amy Reed, at their home in Needham.GRETCHEN ERTL for The Globe/File/GRETCHEN ERTL

When Brigham and Women's Hospital discovered that Dr. Amy Reed was scheduled for lung cancer surgery Monday, it took pointed action: The Harvard teaching hospital assigned security guards to shadow Reed's husband, also a physician, and search their bags.

Her spouse, Dr. Hooman Noorchashm, objected that the security measures violated their civil rights and were imposed in retaliation for his aggressive national campaign to stop a routine hospital surgical procedure known as power morcellation.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Fahey on Tuesday ruled in the couple's favor, granting their request for a temporary restraining order against the hospital. She ordered the Brigham to stop the searches and the security escorts, finding that Reed and Noorchashm "will suffer irreparable harm."


The Brigham had justified its security response by asserting that e-mails sent by Noorchashm were — based in part on the advice of a former state trooper — a "credible threat to the safety'' of hospital staff.

The episode is the latest twist in the ongoing battle between Noorchashm and the Brigham's leaders — one that has drawn in doctors and colleagues from several of Boston's most esteemed medical institutions — following his wife's life-threatening complication from surgery there in October 2013. Reed, an anesthesiologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at the time, underwent a hysterectomy at the Brigham to treat what she was told were probably benign fibroids. During the laparoscopic procedure, the gynecologist used a power morcellator to shred the tissue and extract it through small incisions.

Follow-up tests on the removed tissue found that Reed had uterine leiomyosarcoma, an aggressive cancer, and later imaging tests showed that the cancerous tissue had been spread throughout her abdominal cavity during the surgery, giving her stage 4, advanced cancer.

Since that 2013 surgery, Noorchashm, who was a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Brigham at the time, has fought an aggressive and public battle against morcellation and against the hospital, which he said should have stopped using the device when it learned that the same gynecological surgery had caused cancer to spread in a previous Brigham patient. The hospital said it could not discuss the case because of a pending lawsuit. Noorchashm has written thousands of strongly worded letters and e-mails to hospital executives, members of the press, and government regulators.


Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital.Brian Snyder/Reuters/File

He has had marked success in helping curb the practice — the Food and Drug Administration has restricted the use of morcellators and insurers have turned back coverage — but the e-mails he sent also led the Brigham to conclude he was a safety threat, according to court documents.

Reed, 42, a mother of six children who is fighting a third recurrence of cancer, arrived at the hospital early Monday so that Dr. Scott Swanson could remove a tumor that had grown on her right lung. Since her complication, she has continued to get some of her medical care at the hospital, though the family has moved to Pennsylvania.

Dr. Ron Walls, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Brigham, wrote Noorchashm on Oct. 29 that the hospital would provide "the best possible care'' to his wife. But at the same time he said if her spouse did not follow the security protocol he would "not be permitted to enter the premise.''

"This came out of nowhere,'' said Noorchashm, who said his wife became very anxious when he told her about the security protocol before her operation.


He said he had not caused security problems during prior visits.

In a court filing, the couple's attorney, Thomas Greene of Boston, included a Nov. 2 e-mail from oncologist Dr. Suzanne George, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Brigham, who said she "never felt threatened or unsafe'' during the many times she treated Reed in her husband's presence.

The Brigham argued in court filings that staff are concerned for their safety and that one physician sought advice from a retired state trooper, Greg Foley, who reviewed the "incendiary and concerning'' e-mails and determined they were threatening. Foley said in an affidavit that he led the investigation into Michael McDermott, who murdered co-workers at a Wakefield technology firm in 2000.

In one typical e-mail sent to Dr. Robert Barbieri, the head of obstetrics and gynecology, in March, Noorchashm said he would "ensure that the eyes of our system of justice are fixed squarely on you and your faculty for grave misconduct leading to deadly harm.''

In another e-mail that month to Barbieri and hospital president Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, he wrote: "Do not underestimate the gravity of your wrong-doing. Or the magnitude of my commitment to this holding you accountable.''

The hospital said the security measures were intended to strike an appropriate balance and were not unprecedented. A guard sat outside the door while Noorchashm visited his wife and met with her doctors.


Earlier this year, the son of a patient shot and killed a Brigham cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. Michael Davidson, because he was upset over his mother's care. The Brigham did not mention the death in its court filings, but did refer to it during the hearing, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Noorchashm acknowledged that his e-mails were "very harsh and very directed" and demanded that leaders at the Brigham step down. But, he said, he stopped there. "My letters were never physically threatening ever,'' he said in an interview Wednesday.

He said that before the judge lifted the order, guards repeatedly searched his bags and asked to look in his pockets, but he said they were professional and polite. He said his wife's surgery went well and she was discharged from the hospital Wednesday morning, after which they headed home to the Philadelphia area.

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at kowalczyk@globe.com.