Chapter Eight: The Joey Hofbauer Story
One Tuesday night about eight o'clock, in late November, 1978, I received a telephone call from Professor Francis Anderson, a professor at the Albany School of Law in Albany, New York. Professor Anderson told me that he was representing an eight-year-old boy, Joey Hofbauer, who had been diagnosed as having Hodgkins Disease (a form of cancer of the lymph nodes). He told me that the Saratoga County Department of Social Services was trying to force the parents to allow the use of chemotherapy in the treatment of his disease. The parents did not want the child to have chemotherapy because they had already begun to have him treated with nutritional therapy. Professor Anderson explained that there was to be a court hearing on the following Thursday. He wanted to know if I would be willing to come to Albany and testify on the boy's behalf. I told him that I would.
The Professor then stated that the family did not have much money and asked me how much I would charge. I told him that I would charge nothing for coming. Professor Anderson said, "That's wonderful, because I am not charging them anything for my services either." I told him that, if they could afford to pay my expenses, that would be fine, but if they couldn't, I'd pay my own way. He assured me that paying my expenses would be no problem for them.
I arrived in Albany about 10:30 P.M. on Wednesday. I was met at the airport by Professor Anderson, Mr. John Hofbauer (Joey's father) and by two brothers, whom I will simply call Bob and Harold, who were friends of John Hofbauer. They took me to my motel, and the whole group came up to my room. It was there that I learned what had been going on. I will tell you the story as it was told to me that night.
Joey Hofbauer had been diagnosed as having Hodgkins Disease some months earlier. His doctors said that the only treatment was chemotherapy. His father, John, knew others who had taken chemotherapy. He did not want this for his son. Instead, he took Joey to a medical clinic in Jamaica for nutritional therapy.
When Joey's doctors found out that his father had not only taken him out of the country, but was also not going to have him treated with chemotherapy, they became irate. They filed a "child abuse" claim against John.
A few weeks later, when John returned to Albany with Joey, the powers-that-be were lying in wait. Less than twenty-four hours after their return, a sheriff and several deputies literally broke down the front door of the Hofbauer home and kidnapped Joey. They took him to a hospital where, according to the Saratoga County Department of Social Services, he would receive chemotherapy whether the parents approved or not.
John Hofbauer called his family attorney and explained the situation. His attorney told him that he did not want to become involved in a case of this nature. John then took the telephone directory and called almost every attorney in Albany. The reply was always the same.
"While I sympathize with you, I do not want to become involved."
It was now about eleven o'clock at night. John had gone through all of the attorneys in Albany. Out of sheer desperation he called his friends, Bob and Harold, in Boston. Bob answered the phone. John explained what had happened and about his inability to find an attorney to represent him. Bob told him that he and Harold would meet him in Albany the next morning.
Bob and Harold drove all night and arrived at the Hofbauer home about 6:00 A.M. The battle plan was drawn. At 7:00 A.M. Bob left. He spent the entire day visiting every radio and television station in the city. He told each and every one of those stations the story of Joey Hofbauer, and that Joey's father had not been able to find an attorney who was willing to represent him. By mid-afternoon this story was on every radio station and every television station in Albany.
Watching the six o'clock news on television was Professor Francis Anderson. He immediately called John Hofbauer and told him that he would be happy to represent him, and that there would be no charge for his service. It was two hours later that Professor Anderson called me. To this day, I do not know how these people got my name. They never said, and I never thought to ask.
We were by now into the wee hours of the morning. Professor Anderson asked me if I had ever testified in a case of this nature. I told him that I had not. He took time to go over the types of questions he would be asking me on direct examination. This was not a problem at all. He then went into what I could expect on cross-examination. In the next hour, I probably learned more about court room procedure than I have ever learned since. He told me what questions I would be asked and how to handle those questions. The thing I remember most is that Professor Anderson told me that the attorneys for the other side would probably start naming a number of medical books and ask me if I had read them. He told me that if I had not read them just say, "No." He explained that the court does not expect that every doctor has read every medical book that has ever been written. If I had read the book say, "Yes." He told me that if I did say, "Yes," they would take some quote from that book and ask if I remembered that quote. If I did not remember that quote, I was to reply, "No, I do not remember that quote. My statement was that I have read the book, but I did not memorize it." This lesson, alone, has helped me through many subsequent court procedures.
When the news began to break on all of the radio and television stations, rumors began coming out of the hospital where Joey was confined. These rumors were that hospital was going to secretly transfer him to another hospital so that his chemotherapy could begin. Harold took care of that. He marched into the hospital with a cot under his arm. He went to Joey's bed and put his cot beside it. He then began to call various friends and neighbors of the Hofbauer's to set up a watch on Joey. Somebody was to be in that cot next to Joey every minute, twenty-four hours a day.
When our meeting in my motel room finally broke up, Bob and Harold told me they would pick me up at 7:00 A.M. I said that would be fine; I would be up and have had breakfast by then. They informed me I could not do that. They told me threats had been made against anyone who would testify against the medical establishment. I was told to remain in my room with the door locked until they, Bob and Harold, called for me. This seemed to be a little paranoid at the time, but I decided to just follow instructions.
At 7:00 A.M. the phone in my room rang. It was Bob calling from the lobby of the motel. He told me to look through the little peep-hole in my door. There, he said, I should see Harold. If it was not Harold, I was not to open my door but was to immediately call the motel security. I hung up the phone and looked through the peep-hole in my door. It was Harold.
The three of us had breakfast and then went to the hospital where Joey was confined. I was there to examine Joey. I was taken to the office of the hospital administrator where the necessary procedures (medical license, personal identification, etc.) were carried out. I was then turned over to another doctor who was instructed by the administrator to render me every courtesy.
When Bob, the doctor and I approached Joey's bed we were immediately challenged by a woman who occupied the cot next to Joey. Bob assured her that we were "friendly." The doctor who was assigned to me could not have been nicer. While he never let me out of his sight, he did promptly, at my request, supply me with a tongue blade and a stethoscope. I did my examination of Joey.
We went from the hospital to the court house. On the way, Bob and Harold explained to me that there would be a number of people from the newspapers and the TV stations in the lobby of the court house, and that I was not to talk to any of them. We entered the lobby of the court house. This was my first, and only, experience at seeing TV camera lights come on and having at least a dozen microphones shoved in my face at the same time. It was not a pleasant experience. Since that time I have seen this happen to others on TV at least a thousand times. I don't blame these people for getting angry at some newspaper and TV reporters. They deserve it! Somebody yelled at me, "Are you the surprise witness?" My reply was, "I don' t know ?
When we got into the court room, the hearing had not begun. The Judge was there and said that any of us who were to testify could not make any statements to the media until we had completed our testimony and had been released by the Court. Bob, Harold and I spent the rest of the morning listening to the prosecution present its case. It wasn't very good. While they had a number of oncologists and pediatric specialists testify, Professor Anderson was always successful, on cross examination, in getting them to admit that they had very little success with their form of treatment. When the prosecution finished its testimony, the Judge called a lunch recess.
It was at lunch that I found out who the "surprise witness" was. It was Dr. Michael Schachter, from Nyack, New York. It is my impression that Dr. Schachter had heard about the case and had volunteered to testify on Joey's behalf. The prosecution knew I was going to testify, since they had made arrangements for me to examine Joey that morning, but apparently they did not know about Dr. Schachter. Someone must have leaked to the media that there was going to be a "surprise witness." Dr. Schachter joined us for lunch. Professor Anderson covered the same ground with him that he had covered with me the night before.
The defense began its testimony after lunch. I was the first witness. Under Professor Anderson's guidance, I gave my testimony. It was nothing extraordinary. We went through the facts that cancer was the result of a nutritional deficiency which prevented the body's immunological defense mechanisms from functioning normally. We covered the aspects of nutritional therapy and its abilities to help the body restore that normal defense mechanism. Of course, we concluded that Joey Hofbauer's chances for a better quality and quantity of life were greater with nutritional therapy than with chemotherapy.
The cross-examination was just about what Professor Anderson had said it would be. The attorneys for the County Department of Social Services used the usual attack by calling me a quack and a charlatan. This was nothing new for me. In my many debates with oncologists on TV, I had been called much worse than that. As I had learned before, and as Professor Anderson had cautioned me, "Don't let them make you angry." I just smiled. They then went into the book routine had I read this or that book. I had read some of them. When I told them that I had read a particular book, they read some quote from the book and asked if I remembered that quote. My reply was just as Professor Anderson had coached me "No, I don't remember that quote, but my statement was that I had read the book. I did not say that I had memorized it." This, as I best recall, concluded my testimony.
Dr. Michael Schachter followed me on the witness stand. It was the cross-examination of Dr. Schachter that I found most fascinating. Perhaps because he was a licensed physician in the state of New York, the opposing attorneys really went after him. I had never before, and have never since, seen anyone handle himself on a witness stand as well as Dr. Schachter did. I am sorry that I cannot remember the exact details of the questions asked and the answers he gave. What I do remember is that Dr. Schachter would, time after time, lead the opposing attorneys on, set a trap for them, and then at the opportune time, spring that trap. Each time he did, he would finish with a wide grin. He exhibited both his knowledge about the side effects of chemotherapy and his knowledge of nutrition. I had to leave before he was finished, but when I left, Dr. Schachter was grinning and the opposing attorneys were groaning.
I had to leave because either Bob or Harold told that it was four o'clock and that we had to catch a six o'clock flight out of here. With all the traffic, it would take at least an hour to get to the airport. Besides, we had to meet with the media outside.
I did meet with the media in the lobby of the court house. With lights glaring, I did a fifteen or twenty minute interview with the TV people. Finally, Bob and Harold said that we had to go or we'd never make it to the airport in time.
They were certainly right about the traffic. I don't remember which of the brothers was driving, but he drove like someone from Boston. I sat there most of the time with my hands over my eyes saying Hail Mary's. All I could hear was the honking of horns and the squealing of brakes from the cars beside us and behind us. Anyway, we did make it to the airport about a half-hour before the flight. As I walked through the terminal toward my gate, I passed one of those bars with a TV. I glanced at the TV and saw a familiar face. It was mine. I was on the five-thirty news. It was much too noisy to hear what I was saying, and I was in too much of a hurry to get to my gate to stop and listen. It's a weird feeling, though, to suddenly look up and see yourself on television.
It would be nice to say that my flight home was uneventful. This was not the case. My flight from Albany was to go to Buffalo. After a short lay-over I was to fly to Columbus. We flew into Buffalo in one of the worst snow storms I have ever seen. How that pilot was able to put that plane down on the runway, I'll never know. When I went to the desk to ask about my flight to Columbus, the clerk just laughed. He told us that was the last flight in here tonight, and there would be nothing leaving until in the morning.
The clerk made reservations for me for the 8:00 A.M. flight to Columbus and told me that the airlines would put me up in a motel for the night. When I told him my wife was waiting for me in Columbus, he assured me that we would be able to contact her. He called the airline desk in Columbus. Betty was at the desk. I explained the problem to her. She had just driven through a terrible ice storm to get to Columbus and had no desire to drive fifty miles back home again. We agreed that she should find a near-by motel, spend the night and meet my flight in the morning.
The next morning I took the motel shuttle to the airport. It was still snowing. When we got to the airport about 7:30 A.M., there was only one clerk on duty and about fifty people in line. At about 7:55 A.M. he announced that the flight to Columbus was closed and was leaving. A howl went up from the twenty-or-more of us still in line waiting to get on that flight. Bless his heart, he called back to the plane immediately and told them to hold until he could get all of the people there checked in.
It was now snowing harder than it was when I had come to the airport. The plane taxied out to the runway, gunned its engines and started its takeoff. It had trouble getting traction, sliding back and forth across the runway before finally taking off. There was a little five or six foot wooden barrier at the end of the runway. We were so low that, if I could have opened my window, I could have easily picked up that barrier. We got to Columbus without any further problems. My wife was there to meet me. Our fifty mile trip home was no joy either. We slipped and slid all of the way, but were able to stay out of most of the ditches. When I went into my office at two o'clock that afternoon, my office girl (Ruthie) asked, "How was your trip?" I thought at the time it was like someone asking Custer, when he reached the Pearly Gates, "Other than that, General, how was your day?"
At seven o'clock that night I got a phone call from Professor Anderson. The Judge had handed down his decision late that afternoon. He ruled that Joey should be returned to his parents and that he could continue to receive nutritional treatment. The Judge stated that nutritional therapy "has a place in our society" and that the parents of Joey Hofbauer were not guilty of child neglect in choosing that treatment for their son. The attorney for the State Health Department said that he was "very disappointed" with the decision.
I wish I could say that Joey Hofbauer lived happily ever after. Such is not the case. I never saw Joey again after that day, and I don't really know what happened. I do know that he was under Dr. Schachter's care for a while, and I do know that he died about two years later somewhere out of this country. Chemotherapy, I am sure, would not have prolonged his life. Hopefully, whatever was done added to the quality of his life.