It took 25 years for Dr. Mark Midei to build his reputation and less than two for it to come crashing down.
In the spring of 2009, he was a superstar cardiologist with a seven-figure salary and a staff that adored him. By late April 2011, he was disgraced, depressed, in a rehab facility, and so financially strapped he would soon have to put his sprawling home up for sale.
"I've been near suicidal at times, my whole identity was stripped from me," Midei said last week in an exclusive meeting with The Baltimore Sun. It was his first extended interview since inquiries into whether he performed unnecessary medical procedures — the placement of coronary stents — were initiated by federal investigators and his employer in May 2009.
Since then, the heart doctor has been sued by more than 200 former patients, including his secretary; investigated by a U.S. Senate committee; forced to resign from St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson; and ordered to relinquish his medical license — a decision he is fighting to overturn on appeal.
His critics say he subjected patients to risky procedures they didn't need.
He says he did nothing wrong.
Over three hours in his attorney's office last week, Midei gave his side of the story, which stretches back a decade and features a cast portrayed as vengeful competitors, biased investigators and back-stabbing friends, who would rather see Midei pay for something he didn't do than take responsibility for their own wrongdoing.
The account is supported by his admirers, who note his technical gifts and generous nature, and countered by his antagonists, who characterize him as a public menace in nearly 3,000 pages of recently released court and hospital records reviewed by The Sun. The papers reveal extensive details about the months of secret proceedings and accusations that led to Midei's downfall.
Midei has filed a petition asking a Circuit Court judge to review that lengthy legal record, in the hopes that it will lead to a different conclusion about his work and rights to practice medicine.
"We'll continue until all of our avenues are exhausted," said Midei, 54, sounding tired, but firm.
"I've never treated a single patient that didn't need to be treated," he said. "Every one of them needed the treatment, and they received high quality care."
"One of the best"
Mark Midei is an unlikely villain.
His fans describe him as a "superb" physician, who's selfless, patient and a fine maker of peach ice cream. He has saved dozens of lives, climbed mountains for charity and missed his own family's milestones so he could care for others.
"It is a running joke amongst my friends that if you ever have chest pain that you should Sharpie 'only Mark Midei please' on your chest before they take you to the hospital," one woman wrote on a website devoted to Midei's good works.
He has always been at the top of his endeavors. He graduated from Colerain High School in Cincinnati as the 1975 class valedictorian and earned an expedited medical degree through a program that combined it with a bachelor of science degree.
He completed his training in the 1980s at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where a mentor, Dr. Jeffrey A. Brinker, steered him into cardiology.
"He was energetic, very bright, very hard-working," said Brinker, a professor of medicine and radiology at Hopkins' medical school. "He was one of the best — if not the best — technically expert persons I've ever trained."
Brinker wanted Midei to join the faculty full-time, but the young doctor and his wife, Denise, had a family of three small children by 1991 (with a fourth to follow two years later) and wanted more financial security than academia could offer. Midei formed a private cardiology consulting group with several members of Hopkins faculty that year.