Six months into her pregnancy, Yvette Hansberry began leaking a clear-looking fluid.
This, Hansberry felt certain, was an ominous sign: "I had never been six months pregnant before," she said, "but I know you're not supposed to be leaking any fluid." So she made an appointment to see her OB-GYN, whom she knew as Dr. Charles Akoda.
Akoda insisted she was "fine." He dismissed Hansberry's concerns and sent her away.
But when the problem continued, Hansberry saw a different OB-GYN—who immediately determined she'd already been in labor for six days. Hansberry sped to the hospital in an ambulance, but her daughter couldn't be saved.
Only much later did Hansberry learn that Akoda wasn't who he claimed to be—and that she was far from alone in receiving allegedly substandard care, Kelsey McKinney reports for STAT News.
Who is 'Charles Akoda?'
Court documents list 11 potential pseudonyms for the man known as Charles Akoda, but it's believed he was born in Nigeria as Oluwafemi Charles Igberase. He claims he attended medical school, but he has "provided no verifiable evidence" that he did so, McKinney reports.
"Akoda" arrived in the United States on a nonimmigrant visa in October 1991, and over the next six years, he managed to acquire fraudulent Social Security numbers using a variety of names and addresses, McKinney reports.
He then sought to use that fraudulent information to obtain certifications from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates. He failed basic certification exams multiple times—even though applicants are only supposed to be able to take the tests once—and later had certifications revoked when it was discovered he had applied using varying names and dates.
Even so, by 1998, Akoda received a new certification that enabled him to apply to residency programs.
He was admitted to a residency program in New Jersey—only to be suspended when officials realized he had used a false birth date and Social Security number.
Finally, Akoda was admitted to a residency program in gynecology and obstetrics at Howard University. He completed his residency at Prince George's Hospital Center in Maryland and later joined a nearby clinic.
What happened to Akoda's patients?
After obtaining his medical license, Akoda practiced medicine for nearly four years. McKinney reports that many patients "struggled with their treatment under Akoda's care" and "said his bedside manner was brusque and that he was quick to dismiss their own concerns about their health."
Sylvia Nkeng was one such patient. When Nkeng still hadn't delivered her baby 10 days after her due date, Akoda told her to meet him at the hospital, where he induced labor. According to Nkeng, she was not told what to expect or given any guidance on how long it would take.
After two days of labor, Akoda finally performed a cesarean section. Three days later, she was discharged by Akoda—even though she was still bleeding heavily.
Her family soon took her back to the hospital, where Akoda determined she had a blood clot. Without warning, he immediately used his fist to remove the clot. He then told Nkeng she wouldn't be able to have children for three years.
A medical fraud unravels
Abdul Chaudry, who ran the clinic where Akoda practiced, fired him in 2014. Chaudry said in a court deposition he fired Akoda not for his performance as a doctor but for his tendency to cancel appointments to leave work early.
After Chaudry dismissed him, Akoda started practicing on his own. But he attracted the scrutiny of federal investigators, and he was ultimately arrested in June 2016. He went to jail on a federal fraud charge in late 2016 and spent six months in prison.
When STAT News reached out to Akoda for comment, he asserted in text messages that he was a "fully and properly trained physician," adding, "I made some poor judgement (sic) which I know I'll pay for for the rest of my life."
How patients are coping with 'a shattering breach of trust'
Learning of the fraud "has served as a shattering breach of trust" for Hansberry and the other women under Akoda's care, Hansberry reports.
More than 200 former patients of Akoda's, including Hansberry, have sued the company that now runs the hospital where they were treated. The suit alleges that Akoda conducted emergency caesarean sections that were "not medically necessary," and it argues that because patients did not know Akoda's true identity, they could not provide authorization for the procedures.
The operator—now known as UM Capital Region Health but previously known as Dimensions Health Corp. prior to an acquisition—declined to comment on the story. However, in court documents, the company has argued that Akoda was licensed to practice medicine while he was employed at Prince George's. The company also said that he performed satisfactorily on OB-GYN exams and was named by Howard University as "resident of the year."
Further, the company has argued that Akoda was a doctor, even if his name wasn't Charles Akoda. "As Shakespeare wrote over 400 years ago, 'What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet,'" the nonprofit wrote in a motion to dismiss the case (McKinney, STAT News, 1/3).