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June 11, 2012 at 4:09 PM

UW admonishes surgeon over pro-flame-retardant testimony

Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO – The University of Washington has admonished a prominent surgeon who told lawmakers questionable stories about burned babies while testifying in favor of flame retardants.

A university spokeswoman said Dr. David Heimbach violated school policy by failing to obtain permission before doing consulting work for the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute, a front group for flame retardant makers.

The university also concluded Heimbach violated federal privacy rules by showing photographs of a burned infant at a medical conference without authorization.

“In sum, it is fair to say that the UW is very disappointed in Dr. Heimbach’s actions in regard to this issue,” university spokeswoman Tina Mankowski wrote in a statement.

Heimbach’s attorney said the doctor followed the rules while educating people on how to prevent burns.

“The manner by which he serves in this educational role is within the bounds of the law and his profession’s ethical standards,” the attorney, Deborah Drooz, wrote to the Chicago Tribune.

Until his retirement last year, Heimbach was a surgery professor at the University of Washington and a physician at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, which is managed by the university.

The university began reviewing Heimbach’s files following a Chicago Tribune series that detailed how Heimbach told lawmakers gripping stories of babies suffering fatal burns while on cushioning without flame retardants. But the infants as he described them did not exist.

Heimbach, former president of the American Burn Association, initially told the Tribune that his testimony was meant to be anecdotal and that he “wasn’t under oath.” Later, through his attorney, he said he intentionally changed the facts to protect patient privacy.

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