By Joel Warner
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The Adolph Coors Medical Research Foundation received its designation as a tax-exempt organization by calling itself a hospital. This is not unusual; research foundations frequently achieve tax-exempt status by becoming affiliated with a hospital. But the Coors foundation never was.
Not for lack of trying, either. The foundation first attempted to forge a connection with Mercy Medical Center, but that plan fell apart when Mercy went out of business last spring. Next, Coors says, the foundation signed an agreement with Hilton Head Hospital, where Medenica had admitted patients from his South Carolina clinic. But a hospital administrator denies that Hilton Head ever had a relationship with the Adolph Coors Medical Research Foundation; moreover, this past summer the hospital severed all ties with Medenica himself.
If the Adolph Coors Medical Research Foundation is going to raise any more money, it must find a hospital that will support its research. That could be tricky: With Medenica and Hankensen gone, only a part-time researcher remains affiliated with the foundation. His name is Dr. Kenneth Alonso. And like Medenica, he comes with a past.
A pathologist and former chief medical examiner for the state of Georgia, Kenneth Alonso first gained prominence in 1990 when an AIDS patient he and a colleague had been treating reported that he was cured. Alonso had used a $35,000 technique called hyperthermia, in which the patient's blood is heated to feverish levels in the hopes of killing attacking viruses.
Because of restrictions on human trials in the U.S., Alonso performed some of his hyperthermia research in Mexico. In mid-1990, two months after the AIDS patient claimed he was cured, another of Alonso's patients died in that country. He was the third person the doctor had ever treated with the hyperthermia therapy.
A subsequent National Institutes of Health report on Alonso's treatments was scathing. The original AIDS patient who declared a miracle, the NIH found, didn't have AIDS at all, but rather cat-scratch fever. "There appears to be no clinical, immunological or virological support" for using hyperthermia to treat AIDS, or for even conducting further research on people, the report concluded.
It wasn't the last time Alonso had a run-in with medical authorities, either. Early this year the Georgia State Board of Medical Examiners concluded that in six separate cases, Alonso's treatment of cancer patients was "unethical and dangerous." The board suspended his medical license for six months, ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine and prohibited him from ever treating cancer patients again unless he becomes a board-certified oncologist.
Alonso has been covering at Medenica's South Carolina clinic since the Yugoslavian doctor was arrested in Europe. And Coors confirms that Alonso has conducted some research for his foundation. He also says he's aware of Alonso's controversial past.
"Raising the body's temperature up to 106 degrees for an hour is going to have its deleterious effects," Coors says. "So he's had some casualties, so to speak."
But operating on the edge of traditional medicine is what the Adolph Coors Medical Research Foundation was designed to do, and Coors says he is confident his foundation soon will be pushing the boundaries of immunological treatment once again, even though he concedes it's unlikely the family foundation will continue pouring money into the project.
"I don't control the family," he says. "What might go on under the name Adolph Coors doesn't mean that everybody in the family endorses it, or that everybody supports it. The Adolph Coors Medical Research Foundation is my doing, and strictly my doing. The foundation is me; it is not the Coors family.
"Everything has happened that shouldn't have happened," he concludes. "But we're just stalled. Give us a couple months. We'll be back.