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From the January 2004 Townsend Letter Archives

Don's Tale:
A Tribute to Dr. Donald Carrow, MD
by Arline Brecher

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Online publication June 2008; reprint from our January 2004 magazine

From his first breath, Dr. Donald Carrow was unique, destined to be newsworthy. His birth in 1934, announced in newspaper headlines, hailed his arrival—the first baby born at Jacksonville Memorial Hospital's brand-spanking-new maternity ward. When he died unexpectedly 69 years later, thousands who knew him only as talk radio's "medical maverick" mourned his death as deeply as though they'd lost a family member or close friend. Prominent among the mourners expressing sadness and sympathy were countless numbers of patients eager to voice their gratitude to a one-of-a-kind physician whose pioneering treatments--based on out-of-the-box thinking and rare wisdom—had saved their lives.

The on-air memorial service, broadcast two days after his death, was a two-hour tribute to a physician always ahead of the times, who followed an independent path, regardless of the personal cost and fought for what he believed to be right and in the best interest of the patient, right to the end.

A detailed biography of Dr. Carrow's adventures and accomplishments in the years between birth and death would read like a Robin Cook novel with stranger-than-fiction material suitable for a made-for-TV movie. His life story begins like a classic soap opera: his dad deserted the family when he was only ten, leaving Don and his older and younger brothers to fare as best they could under the care of a mother with scant financial or emotional resources.

All three boys rebelled, as fatherless boys are wont to do, and as they dropped out of school and became juvenile delinquents, they were remanded to reform schools until each reached age 18. None of the Carrow brothers progressed past 8th grade in grammar school; none attended high school. With no education and no family to fall back on, as each brother was turned loose, he joined the Army.

Don's military career took off when he became a boxer and fought his way through the ranks to emerge as Heavyweight Champ of the 5th Army in Germany. The same year, 1956, he was discharged from the military, and with no plans for the future, funds available from the GI Bill of Rights inspired Don to go back to school.

Despite never having taken even one high school course, he applied to the University of Miami at Coral Springs and was admitted with the proviso he make up for the loss with remedial classes. His first year, he got straight Ds, but then to his surprise, he found he liked learning, buckled down, and earned straight As for the rest of his academic career. Graduating from the University of Miami with high honors as a chemistry major, he was immediately hired by one of the nation's largest chemical firms. In the ensuing years, he further distinguished himself by inventing many patentable compounds, which enriched his employer and enhanced Don's reputation.

One of Don's patents resulted in Johnson's GloCoat; another was bought by the Gillette Company and was the basis for the famous hair pomade DippityDo, which earned Gillette $17 million a year for 17 straight years. Don was rewarded with $50 for each of these patents.

After eight years of over-achievement and under-compensation, a frustrated Don Carrow decided he'd have a more rewarding career as a doctor than a chemist, and so in 1964, he applied for admission to medical school. As might be expected, few institutions were interested in enrolling a 30-year-old high school drop-out, but fortunately, a personal recommendation from the physician father of his lab partner at the chemical company where he still worked saved the day and resulted in an interview with the head of admissions for the University of Louisville Medical School.

When Don arrived, the first question he was asked was: "Why do you want to be a doctor?" Carrow's response shocked Dr. Smith, the admissions officer. "I know what I'm supposed to tell you," Don replied, "but actually it's because I think being a doctor is the only way I'll ever make a lot of money." Dr. Smith leaned back in his chair and said: "Let me tell you. I've interviewed 250 applicants to date, and you're the first to give me an honest answer. You're accepted," and Don was admitted as a medical student on the spot.

After graduation, Don completed an internship and residency, specializing in anesthesiology in the surgery unit of the cardiac division of the local hospital, overseeing 2,000 bypasses. His management skills were so outstanding that, in 1978, he was invited to supervise the opening of an anesthesiology department for a new cardiac unit at a Largo, Florida hospital.

For the year he was there, the newly minted Doctor Carrow grew more and more disenchanted with the medical treatments routinely practiced at the hospital. More often than not, patients who entered the hospital for some relatively minor elective surgery ended up with a bypass procedure. The tactics used to convince patients to agree to heart surgery, characterized as "threat and intimidation" by Dr. Carrow, disgusted him. He was vocally critical of the way patients were being rushed into unneeded surgical procedures, all to profit the hospital.

Years later, Dr. Thomas Graboys of Harvard University confirmed Dr. Carrow's description of the unethical behavior he'd witnessed and publicly accused the bypass industry of setting up "scripted teams" designed to convince the innocent into accepting bypasses based on dishonest, untruthful warnings. One of the hospital administration's recommended ways of convincing reluctant patients into accepting heart surgery was to target the male patients' wives, pointing to a spot on the spouse's heart X-ray, calling it the "widow-maker."

While at the University of Louisville, Dr. Carrow became determined to do something to alleviate one of the most serious results of botched surgical procedures. Patients kept on bypass machinery for hours longer than advisable require long-term respiratory support, and as a result, contract infections from the machinery helping them breathe. The antibiotics needed to counteract the infections cause further health problems. Based on his chemical expertise, Dr. Carrow understood that silver is a natural antibiotic, anti-viral element, and so he developed a silver filter for the respirator that would block the pathogens. As predicted, with silver filters in place, no patient on a respirator developed infections – there was a 100% reduction in respiratory infections among patients recovering from bypass. Hospital personnel were so impressed, they called in the respirator manufacturer to witness and document the research and results.

The hospital administrators expected an immediate endorsement of the silver filters. Much to their chagrin – and Dr. Carrow's outrage – the manufacturers explained that while the results were obviously impressive and beneficial to patients, they could not consider changing their equipment to include the silver filter since contracts with pharmaceutical companies for antibiotics would be endangered. The physicians who had backed the work said nothing, just nodded in silence. Dr. Carrow judged the non-response wicked beyond belief! How could health practitioners walk away quietly from an agreed-upon improvement in patient care? That was not his style — not then, not ever —as many were to learn over the years.

In 1975, Dr. Carrow's disapproval of hospital procedures became a more personal issue. It all started when an attractive young medical technician working for the hospital's blood bank, came to Dr. Carrow's attention. "Where's the good-looking gal I've been hearing about," he was heard to ask one day when he visited the lab.

"What a loudmouth boor," responded Deborah Ray, the lady singled out, who at the time was dating a Carrow colleague named Paul. As luck would have it, weeks later, Deborah was invited to a party at Don Carrow's apartment, and she attended, expecting Paul to be there.

"He's here," Don reported, but "he's with another gal." Instead of leaving in a huff — her first instinct — she stayed, found Don interesting to be with, and agreed to date him. Luckily for them, and hundreds of thousands of others, the relationship stuck and matured — and held strong for the subsequent 28 years. When Deborah suddenly fell seriously ill with Crohn's Disease in 1977, she was scheduled for an emergency operation. Dr. Carrow, learning of the impending procedure, rushed to her bedside where she was being prepped and demanded a second opinion, convinced the drastic surgery (a cholostomy) was unnecessary. His unwelcome interference caused a noisy row, but Dr. Carrow's timely intervention prevailed, and "literally saved my life," Deborah says now, remembering that day. Surgery avoided, Dr. Carrow later introduced Deborah to a new, more natural, health-promoting form of medicine. He suggested a number of herbal and nutritional alternatives designed to heal, gradually weaned her off the medications that were causing toxic reactions, and coaxed her back to full health.

In a classic example of "no good deed shall go unpunished," Dr. Carrow's revolt against the hospital's doctors did not go unnoticed despite the favorable result. His excellent on-the-job performance and reputation in the field of anesthesia notwithstanding, he was summarily dismissed from the local Largo hospital. As a further retribution, the hospital "black-balled" him as a disruptive influence, so that when he applied to other institutions, they told him they could not hire him.

Thoroughly disgusted, Dr. Carrow decided to escape the confines of the medical bureaucracy and strike out on his own, opening a private, fee-for-service practice. In 1979, he established the first holistic health facility in Tampa, Florida and immediately ran afoul of the medical establishment when the advertisement of his new office in the local papers offended the Florida State Medical Board. And thus began a 19-year conflict with the reigning authorities.

For the next 24 years, with Deborah Ray at his side as his right-hand researcher and helper, the practice caught on and grew. It was at this time that circumstances changed the course of Dr. Carrow's medical career and also had the spin-off effect of benefiting hundreds of thousands of others. Dr. Carrow began suffering from angina and other cardiovascular problems and, having witnessed the inadequacy of bypass surgery, was eager to investigate non-invasive alternatives for himself. He asked Deborah to look into a relatively unknown treatment: chelation therapy.

After she presented him with 40 articles published in medical journals supporting chelation, Dr. Carrow responded: "Not enough. Find me more." After she presented him with 3,000 confirming studies from the international medical literature, Dr. Carrow decided to investigate further by visiting Dr. Ray Evers, the pioneer chelation physician, in Dothan, Alabama. What he learned there convinced him to try chelation therapy on himself and then, satisfied with the results, he was determined to add chelation therapy to treatments offered at his new office.

Coincidentally, Dr. Carrow's first receptionist told him of her own experience with Dr. Ray Evers. Like many he'd observed while on the hospital staff, this young woman had entered a hospital for a simple hysterectomy. But once she complained of a minor chest pain, the bypass surgeons teamed up with their well-rehearsed routine. They convinced her that a bypass operation was indicated using phony diagnostics to support their case. The procedure proved a disaster, and the young woman suffered almost total amnesia, developed mental confusion, and felt incompetent to return to work. Unwilling to accept this outcome for a valued employee, Dr. Carrow proceeded to restore her to functional health with the help of chelation therapy. The treatment series proved so successful, he decided to make this non-surgical cardiovascular treatment a cornerstone of his medical practice.

That was 1979 and for the next 18 years, despite the lack of a single patient complaint lodged against him, the Florida State Medical Board initiated 1700 malpractice charges against Dr. Carrow for offenses termed, "departures from standard of care practices." The majority of these accusations spotlighted his chelation practice, complaints that ignored the fact that the ground-breaking Rogers vs. Florida Board of Medicine case, adjudicated in Dr. Rogers' favor in 1978 by the Florida Supreme Court, established chelation as a legally allowed medical practice for all time.

The remainder of the charges involved Carrow's use of vitamin E, hair analysis, magnesium infusions, and comparable medical procedures unacceptable to his colleagues despite substantial scientific support. To make matters worse, each time the Medical Board instituted trumped-up charges, they sent copies to the local papers, which printed the tales as though they were substantiated complaints. As a result, Carrow's patient load was periodically cut in half. For the 18 years these unjustifiable attacks on Dr. Carrow went on, his legal expenses averaged $13,000 a month! In the ensuing years, the Carrows (Don and Deborah Ray were married four years after they met) were forced into bankruptcy twice because of these unending onslaughts.

Finally, in 1991, nationally known nutritional guru Jeff Bland, PhD, voluntarily appeared before the Florida Hearing Officer and presented an eight-hour testimony specifying the scientific validity for every one of Dr. Carrow's therapeutic decisions. At the end of this impressive performance, the Medical Board's lawyer stood up, faced his clients and said: "Gentlemen—you have no case here. You never did have a supportable case. Drop these charges — NOW!" Not until 1997 were all 1700 charges dropped. Dr. Carrow felt vindicated, and he and Deborah Ray celebrated a great moral victory. There was no compensation however, for the years of unwarranted persecution and the financial setbacks incurred.

"And Don was too proud to ever take a dime from anyone for his legal defense," Deborah recalls. "It was just not his style." What enabled them to survive was the radio show they began in the Tampa market in 1982, which proved so popular, it was nationally syndicated in 1991, eventually reaching listeners in most major markets. To this day, it is the most influential program of its type in the entire country.

The announcement of Dr. Carrow's death on August 13th brought forth a spontaneous outpouring of patient testimonials from those who had listened – and heeded – his advice over the many years. E-mail, letters, condolences, flowers, and other evidence of long-time devotion to the Carrows flooded the office within hours after news of his passing.

"I wouldn't be alive today if it were not for Dr. Carrow," was the message related over and over again. Another call-in reported, "He taught me to stand up to the doctors and gave me the courage to do that. It's really paid off for me--makes them mad, but so what."

"He not only saved my dad's life," reported another caller, "he added six full years to his life—and they were healthy, pain-free years. My dad enjoyed life to the very end—all thanks to Dr. Carrow."

Even Dr. Carrow's characteristic gruff ways endeared him to listeners, as one recalled: "I called one day to recite a litany of health problems — a literal laundry list of complaints. Dr. Carrow listened without saying one word, and then when I stopped, he asked, 'You dead yet?'—and when I laughed and said—'No', he said, 'Well, then there's hope we can do something for you.' And I got the message. He had no patience with complainers, only for people seeking solutions and expecting to find them."

Countless callers mentioned Dr. Carrow's repeated reminder that all listeners down a liquid magnesium citrate drink each day to counteract the almost universal magnesium deficiency rampant throughout the supposedly healthy population. "We start every day with our magnesium drink and a toast to Dr. Carrow," is the way one advocate put it. "We're among the lucky ones to become patients and will be patients forever."

The causes that Dr. Carrow defended for two-and-a-half decades — scientific support for effective nutritional non-drug methodologies — will continue despite his death. Deborah Ray, his helpmate, wife, and radio partner for the past 28 years, has dedicated herself to keeping his message alive and is maintaining both the medical facility so many depended upon and the radio show that has influenced untold millions.

Heading the list of Carrow-triggered projects that will move briskly forward is the newly announced drug-free nutrition-based protocol for congestive heart failure, based on many of the heart-health boosting strategies Dr. Carrow had advocated for many years. Key ingredients of this therapeutic approach include the magnesium citrate drink, which had long been a Carrow trademark, and the Indian herb Arjuna, whose benefits he was one of the first health professionals to recognize and use External Counter Pulsation (ECP), the non-interventional FDA-approved treatment for increasing coronary artery circulation. To insure the widespread adoption of this breakthrough approach to an epidemic disease (congestive heart failure now claims five million sufferers, and 600,000 new cases are diagnosed annually), physicians nationwide are being recruited to join the team of research-minded doctors willing to oversee the protocol and document patient outcome results. (Further details are available on the website at HealthSavers.Info)

"Don was not a politician," Deborah Ray reminds us. "He always said, there were as many bad doctors in alternative medicine as there are in orthodoxy, and he had no patience with uncaring profit-motivated physicians wherever they could be found, even among colleagues. His latest crusade was to be against uneducated chelation doctors attempting to cash in on a therapy he helped popularize."

"We've got a bunch of jerks running around defrauding patients and taking their money, claiming to know something about chelation," he would complain, determined to educate people to choose only legitimate physicians. That crusade will also continue under Deborah Ray's devoted guidance. Now broadcasting three hours a day, six days a week in most important national markets, The Deborah Ray Show (webcast at HealthyTalkRadio.Com) is a powerful supporter of nutritional and natural medicine. Thanks to Deborah Ray, the Medical Maverick's legacy lives on. A permanent memorial to Dr. Carrow and his many contributions to holistic medicine is underway with a book documenting his pioneering efforts scheduled to be published by mid-2004.


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