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Doctors Differ on Copp's Ailments

A 9/11 Phony— Earlier this year, Doug Copp was awarded $649,000, tax free, from the fund set up to compensate victims of 9/11. He says it's not enough. But it's doubtful he deserves anything. A Journal investigation found no evidence Copp did real rescue work in New York.

See column at right for links to all stories in this series

By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
    There is no doubt Doug Copp has something wrong with him.
    In his claim to the September 11th victim fund, he submitted about $87,000 in bills for doctors, medicines and travel to see medical specialists for the health complaints he said were related to his work at the World Trade Center.
    Since 9/11, he has had pulmonary function tests, a CT scan, hair and urine analysis, a psychological consult and several visits to hospital emergency rooms.
    But what exactly is wrong with Copp is open to debate.
    Dr. Timothy Smith, a California anti-aging specialist who presented Copp's medical case to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, said Copp's immune system is seriously compromised in ways that affect his breathing and thinking. He said Copp has antibodies to about a dozen molds and has numerous toxins in his body.
    A pulmonologist who tested Copp said he has "irritable airway."
    An internal medicine specialist who reviewed Copp's medical records from September 2001 to May 2003 offered the opinion that Copp has mild asthma and depression.
    Another pulmonologist who reviewed the same records said Copp has a "mild restrictive lung disease" but said he could not call it asthma.
'A nasty death'
    Disagreement about Copp's health is further complicated by the debate between traditional and alternative medicine and by Copp's penchant for drama.
    He says his doctor told him there has never been anyone in history with his concentration of toxins— and that he is dying.
    In interviews and letters to Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Copp described his health as ghastly. He said in a letter to Udall that he has had "11 respiratory attacks, 10 immune system attacks, 4 Organic Brain Syndrome attacks, damage to all of my internal organs, damage to my eyes and the auto immune system disease, 'lupus.' ''
    He repeatedly said he was dying and would not survive unless he received a great deal of money to pay for expensive therapy that might save him.
    He said in a letter to Udall, "My Doctor has told me that I will become even sicker, in a great deal of pain and that my prospects of survival would be very dim. He made it plain, to me, that I will die a nasty death."
    "I told him to stop saying that," Smith told the Journal. "He's not dying." Smith also said Copp does not have lupus.
    But Smith, who Copp encouraged the Journal to contact to verify his condition, said Copp is very sick, although improving.
    Smith prescribed Copp drugs usually used to treat Alzheimer's and hypertension. He said Copp showed dramatic improvement.
    "I think his brain is functioning better now," Smith said.
    Smith said the underlying causes of Copp's shortness of breath and cognitive problems will exist until he undergoes a series of detoxification treatments, treatments that Copp says he can't afford.
    Smith saw Copp in person five to six times. He says he does most of his work over the phone. He billed Copp $37,000 for his treatment, consultations, research and report preparation.
Hospital visits
    Copp said he thinks he returned to New Mexico from New York on Sept. 26. Copp's medical records, provided to the Journal by him, show he first sought medical attention in New Mexico on Sept. 30 in the emergency room at St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe.
    He complained of a cough, trouble breathing and rib pain. He was diagnosed with acute asthmatic bronchitis and prescribed an Albuterol inhaler and an antibiotic.
    In December, Copp went to the University of New Mexico Hospital emergency room complaining of chest and leg pain and trouble breathing. He was discharged after an examination found his heart rhythm was normal. He was told to follow a low-fat diet and to take Maalox and Ibuprofen.
    Both times Copp told the hospitals he had worked in dust and soot at the World Trade Center.
    Three weeks later, he went to the St. Joseph's emergency room, this time complaining of back pain and saying he had taken an accidental overdose of Tylenol No. 3. A blood test found Tylenol in the low end of the therapeutic range and a blood-alcohol level of .07, near the presumed level of intoxication for driving.
    He was diagnosed with sciatica and a non-toxic drug ingestion, and told to take pain medication, including Vicodin.
    Over the next year and a half, Copp saw a number of doctors in New Mexico, including an internist, a pulmonary specialist, a neurologist, a pain specialist and a neuropsychologist.
    Bruce Miller, the pulmonologist who examined Copp in Albuquerque, diagnosed him as having "irritable airway secondary to World Trade Center exposure."
    Copp had told Miller and Smith that he spent days underground at ground zero and that prior to going to New York he had been healthy.
    But in a letter Copp wrote in 1993 to the commanding general of the Mexican Red Cross, Copp recounted terrible health problems.
    "I have suffered post traumatic stress syndrome, sickness from prolonged exposure to decomposing bodies (bacteria and concrete in my lungs). Sores all over my body with my feet swollen to the point of being unable to put (on) shoes; continue to have my blood stream infected with fungi. ..."
    Copp said on his Web site he got pneumonia in the Kobe earthquake in 1999.
Records examined
    Two New Mexico doctors who reviewed Copp's medical records provided by Copp for the Journal based their conclusions about Copp's health solely on those records, which did not include anything after May 2003.
    Michael Wagner, a pulmonary specialist with a practice in Española, said the only serious health issue he found in Copp's medical records was "a mild restrictive lung disease" that might be asthma. He said the restriction on Copp's lung volume in a test taken in Albuquerque could also be caused by obesity. According to his medical records, Copp is between 5 feet 9-1/2 inches and 5 feet 11 inches and weighed about 240 pounds.
    Wagner said it was impossible to prove or disprove that the source of the damage to Copp's lungs was exposure at the World Trade Center.
    He said that, whatever the cause of Copp's breathing impairment, the impairment is mild.
    Ulton Hodgin, a retired internist who reviewed the same records, said there was nothing in Copp's medical records to support claims of clinically significant immune dysfunction, hypersensitivity pneumonia, or hypothyroidism— all problems that Copp included in his medical claim.
    He said Copp had esophageal reflux, another condition Copp has reported having.
    Hodgin discounted the hair analysis that concluded Copp has heavy metal poisoning. Hair testing, he said, "looks very important but it's all sound and fury meaning nothing."
    Hodgin said Copp has asthma— like about 20 million other Americans— and that his asthma is mild. Even mild asthma, however, could prevent someone from working in smoky or dusty places, like collapsed buildings, he said.
    He said Copp was very depressed and had gained 40 to 60 pounds.
    "My final diagnosis is he's convinced of ill health, which doesn't seem reversible," Hodgin said.