Critical Condition

AIDS researcher of high repute. Proprietor of a glamorous Miami Beach spa. Target of a federal criminal probe. The many sides of Dr. Lionel Resnick.

Jimmy Resnick has also been publicly chided for his role in the family business. In 1993, after the Miami Beach Housing Authority discovered he had been collecting federal rent subsidies in the name of a tenant who had been for dead a year, Jimmy Resnick was ordered to pay nearly $6000 in restitution. Last year state prosecutors investigated him after it was learned that for months he had received federal subsidies for an apartment he was renting to tenants at full market value. Again, he agreed to make restitution.

To those who know the Resnicks -- and that includes nearly all of Miami Beach's old-line aristocracy -- news of Lionel's troubles came as both a supreme irony and a surprise. He was seen as the one Resnick who had never even flirted with wrongdoing. Certainly, nothing in his past would have predicted the controversy that has ensnared him.

The youngest Resnick attended college and medical school at the University of Miami. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Mount Sinai, then switched his focus to dermatology. His interest in AIDS research began after he treated a number of patients with AIDS-related skin problems, and was stoked by a year spent as a researcher at NIH headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, where he studied under Dr. Robert Gallo. (Gallo would later became mired in a scandal of his own, involving allegations that he stole credit for the discovery of the HIV virus from a group of French researchers.)

When Resnick returned to Miami in 1985, he joined a private dermatology clinic at Mount Sinai but spent much of his time pursuing AIDS research. Unlike some researchers, the young dermatologist quickly sensed the opportunity that existed in the booming world of AIDS research. He was instrumental in securing a million-dollar state grant that allowed him to set up a virology lab at Mount Sinai, and with the lab in place, his work multiplied.

Resnick's endeavors have run the gamut, from studies of how saliva inhibits HIV to how the virus affects the brain. He has also overseen clinical trials to test new AIDS medications. His curriculum vitae lists page after page of accomplishments and identifies him as the author of dozens of scholarly papers. In the media, he is almost invariably referred to as a virologist and an AIDS researcher.

Even amid the recent questions about his billing, it has been easy to forget that Dr. Lionel Resnick is, first and foremost, a dermatologist.

Ted Homer is not likely to forget.
Five years ago, Homer's father visited a dermatology clinic at Mount Sinai. Though remarkably robust for a man of 90, Henry Homer suffered from psoriasis and was being treated with ultraviolet light therapy, which requires patients to spend brief periods of time exposed to UV rays in a specially designed box.

Henry Homer was supposed to spend twenty seconds in the box during his February 16, 1990, visit to the clinic. But the technician overseeing the procedure forgot about him. Homer spent an estimated twenty minutes inside before exiting the booth himself, complaining that he was tired and overheated.

Homer had been prescribed the treatment by another doctor at the clinic, but the staffer on call that day was Lionel Resnick, who was serving as acting head of the department because dermatology chief Phillip Frost was out of town. When Resnick was called in and saw Homer, he ordered the patient to remain in the hospital for further observation.

Homer was soon covered from head to toe with burns. The only parts of his body that remained white, as Dade medical examiner Bruce Hyma later noted, were the bottoms of his feet. He developed septic infections, went into a coma, and died March 9, 1990. Hyma determined the cause of death to be sepsis, a general infection "caused by complications from first- and second-degree burns" over 90 percent of Homer's body.

Homer's three sons, who kept a vigil by their father's bedside during his decline, contacted the Miami Beach Police Department, which opened an investigation.

The day Homer died, Det. Paul Scrimshaw visited the clinic. According to Scrimshaw's report, Resnick told him the light booth was "homemade, having been built in the hospital" and that Maria Fajardo-Stewart, the technician who oversaw Homer's treatment, had received no special training.

The detective returned the next day to interview Fajardo-Stewart and to ask Resnick more questions. He noted that in the time since his first visit, someone had replaced the timers in the two light-therapy boxes and made other improvements. Scrimshaw also wrote in his report that Mount Sinai officials were careful to distance themselves from the clinic, pointing out that it was an entity separate from the hospital.

Scrimshaw paid Resnick one more visit, a week later, along with medical examiner Hyma. During this interview, Resnick described the UV treatment as a "benign therapy" and admitted there was no procedural manual covering its administration. "Resnick also advised that the victim did not avail himself of the 'Safety Button' in the light booth," Scrimshaw wrote in his report.

At the mention of this device, all three men returned to the light box in question. "No Safety Button could be found within the booth," Scrimshaw subsequently wrote. "An off-white wire was located in the upper right rear corner of the booth, leading to an outlet in the wall. It is possible that this is the button and it was obscured, hanging over the exterior rear of the booth."

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