CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Many of the women who were treated by Dr. Javaid Perwaiz are still deeply traumatized by his crimes.
For some patients, the trauma first surfaced in November 2019. That’s when the trusted obstetrician-gynecologist was arrested and charged with performing unnecessary surgeries and procedures on unsuspecting women to make money off of fraudulent health insurance claims.
Shannon Cohen is one of the women whose foundation of trust was eroded by Perwaiz’ arrest. Perwaiz was Cohen’s OB-GYN for more than 20 years, and he performed several procedures on her. Since his arrest, Cohen hasn’t seen another doctor.
“It’s just hard to imagine that level of comfort and safety that you felt with this man for so long was just an act. There is no rhyme or reason for it. I’ve become incredibly obsessed with this case, and learning more and more and more and more about him. It is, by far, the most disturbing information you could learn about someone that you have known for so long,” Cohen said.
For other patients, the trauma began when the FBI told them that the procedures Perwaiz performed on them were unnecessary, and federal prosecutors asked them to testify against the OB-GYN at his criminal trial.
Anita Fuller is one of the patients who testified against Perwaiz in federal court last fall. She told jurors about a conversation she had with FBI agents. They informed her that Perwaiz purposefully misdiagnosed her with cancer so he could perform an unnecessary hysterectomy on her.
“From the day that I found out through the FBI that all the reports came back, that I never had cancer, I was devastated. I screamed. I cried. I was depressed, and my family is very sad. You did an operation on me that was very unnecessary for the sake of money. Do you know what it feels like every day to walk around and be depressed because a doctor that you trusted took body parts from you that was not necessary? Shame on you,” Fuller said.
And, for some patients, the trauma was present long before Perwaiz was arrested and convicted. It began years and decades ago, when they reached out for help, but found none.
Susan Anderson is one of the patients who has navigated that trauma for many years. She formally complained about Perwaiz to a Chesapeake Circuit Court judge and the Virginia Board of Medicine in 1991 after she discovered that a handful of procedures and a hysterectomy he performed on her were unnecessary. Neither authority responded to Anderson’s complaints.
“Finally. That’s the word that came to my mind. Finally, someone’s doing something after, in my case, over 30 years of trying to get something done. Finally, someone is doing something,” Anderson said.
When Perwaiz is sentenced to prison time on May 18, it won’t be the end of Cohen, Fuller, and Anderson’s healing — it will be the beginning of a lifelong process to overcome their trauma.
“I don’t know that there is any justice, because I don’t know that there is a sentence to sit in prison long enough to compensate for the destruction that he has caused,” Cohen said. “I would love if I could know that he was sympathetic to all of this or remorseful in any way, but I don’t even know if that is even possible because to commit these types of horrific crimes on these women, you have no moral compass.”
It is impossible to know the true number of women who were impacted by Perwaiz’ crimes. The FBI fielded more than 500 calls to their tip line in the wake of his arrest. 10 On Your Side investigators have interviewed or spoken with dozens of women who wanted to share their experiences with the OB-GYN. And Perwaiz told federal investigators that he treated between 4,000 and 5,000 women each year.
Federal prosecutors seem to have acknowledged the unique impact that Perwaiz’ crimes have had on women and families in Hampton Roads. In a rare move, the U.S. Department of Justice recently issued a call for victim impact statements from any person who was negatively affected by the OB-GYN’s crimes. Women like Cohen, Anderson, and Fuller have submitted victim impact statements for a federal judge review at Perwaiz’ sentencing.
The FBI has also taken a unique approach responding to the overwhelming number of women who have reached out for help. The agency collaborated with local mental health care providers to form a group that is providing free and low-cost services to women impacted by Perwaiz’ crimes.
That group is called the Women’s Resource Collaborative. It was formed in November after an FBI agent asked a local counselor named Dr. Susan Thompson for help responding to Perwaiz’ patients. Thompson reached out to friends and colleagues who agreed to collaborate together to provide resources for women seeking help to heal from their trauma.
“We know if someone has been physically assaulted that there is a reason for the trauma, the emotional and the mental aspects of it are often longer-lasting than the physical,” Thompson said. “We heal physically. Our bodies will heal themselves, but when it comes to the emotional and psychological, it takes more time and takes more effort.”
Danielle McDowell is a resident in counseling and a local provider who joined the Women’s Resource Collaborative. She is currently treating two of Perwaiz’ patients and said that the trauma they experienced has impacted many areas of their lives.
“It shows up in their ability to build relationships, maintain relationships. It shows up in their ability to plan their future, in their intimate relationships,” McDowell said. “There are layers to this crime.”
Some patients have also filed medical malpractice lawsuits against the OB-GYN to try and obtain financial compensation for the harm they believe Perwaiz did to their bodies. But, as medical malpractice attorney Mike Goodove told 10 On Your Side, that compensation doesn’t come easily.
“I think it is extremely difficult because in any case, you have to prove that there was fault,” Goodove said.
Lack of medical records, the passage of time, and the burden of proof that a doctor did not use their best judgment make medical malpractice cases extremely difficult to win, Goodove said.
“I never in my 28 years of practice picked up a record from a doctor where a doctor acknowledges making a mistake in a surgical procedure. So many times, the medical records, the actual subjective information that is put in there by a physician, doesn’t help the patient when it comes to a medical malpractice case,” Goodove said.
And, even when a patient does overcome those barriers, a win in court doesn’t ensure that they are flush in cash. Virginia is one of many states that has a cap on how much money a patient can be awarded in a medical malpractice lawsuit. That cap is $2.45 million. Adding insult to injury, the further back a procedure or surgery is, the less money a judge can award.
“The cap is terrible, because what a cap does on very severely injured people is it limits your right of recovery. So, let’s say you’ve been injured gravely by a doctor and you need money to pay for that care in the future, well the doctor has a cap in that case and that person is going to be shifted to their own resources or the public’s resources. Caps are absolutely terrible, and they discourage settlement resolution many times,” Goodove said.
Right now, there are 13 active civil lawsuits against Perwaiz in Chesapeake and Portsmouth circuit courts. More medical malpractice lawsuits are anticipated, including one that Fuller plans to file in the near future.
“I will never accept an apology from Dr. Perwaiz. Never. Why? His apology is nothing but lies, just like everything he said is lies. Lying for people with operations that didn’t need it, and now if he wanted to apologize to me, I do not accept his apology. Not to what he has done to me and my family,” Fuller said.
In December 2019, 10 On Your Side investigators set out on a journey to dig deep into Perwaiz and the healthcare system that allowed him to flourish for nearly 40 years. Our investigators asked Perwaiz to interview with 10 On Your Side several times in the process of their reporting, but he continually declined.
During their reporting, our investigators learned about Perwaiz as a person and a doctor from the women who worked with him; we discovered a trail of red flags throughout his career that were ignored by healthcare authorities; and we traveled a trail of devastation left in the OB-GYN’s wake.
But, our investigators also discovered the strength of the women who were treated by Perwaiz. They’ve shown resilience as they process his arrest and conviction, working hard to get themselves and their families to the heart of healing.
Because, from the beginning of our reporting — and now at the end of this final chapter — this investigation has always been about the “Patients v. Perwaiz.”
“Dr. Perwaiz, in spite of you and what you’ve done to me, and what you’ve done to so many other women out there, my life is good. I have overcome, and a lot of other women will overcome what you’ve done to us. We have the last word, not you,” Anderson said.