The case of Omer Ahmetovic: Naturopathy, cancer, tragedy, and homicide

So, I had planned to post something yesterday, but the visit with the dog trainer took longer than expected. Then last night I thought I’d have something, and, for some reason, right after spending a couple of hours with the puppies after having fed them and their mom, I crashed for the night on the couch, only to wake up around 11:30 PM to go into the basement, check on the puppies (and, of course, to play with them), and clean their pen. But, as a consequence of my messed up sleep schedule the last couple of days, I did wake up earlier than usual, which led me to think that a brief post was possible. Specifically, I wanted to update you on a tragic story that I blogged about over a year and a half ago. It’s about a naturopath named Juan Gonzalez, a cancer patient named Fikreta Ibrisevic, and the cancer patient’s husband, who is named Omer Ahmetovic.

As I’ve mentioned before, naturopathy is a frequent topic on this blog because it is a veritable cornucopia of quackery. Be it homeopathy, functional medicine, bogus diagnostic tests, traditional Chinese medicine, reflexology, naturopaths embrace basically any form of quackery you can think of and more that even I couldn’t think of before I started looking into naturopathy. More importantly, thanks to “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), known more recently as “integrative medicine,” naturopathy is becoming more and more “respectable.” Indeed, there are naturopaths at far too many academic medical centers. One even participated in the writing of the Society for Integrative Oncology’s breast cancer guidelines, which were later endorsed by ASCO. Then there is the push for naturopathic licensure in various states, such as Massachusetts and my home state of Michigan, with supplement manufacturers paying the bill.

In any event, in March 2017, there was a murder in Bowling Green, KY. The victim of the murder was the aforementioned naturopath named Juan Gonzalez, who was shot to death in his Bowling Green office on a Friday evening by a man named Omer Ahmetovic, the aforementioned husband of Fikreta Ibrisevic. He was quickly arrested for the crime. But what was Ahmetovic’s motive for murder? His wife, Fikreta Ibrisevic, was a patient of Gonzalez’s who had died four days before the murder, after having been diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, an rare form of connective tissue cancer. She had, tragically, chosen Gonzalez over over conventional cancer therapy:

Ibrisevic was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft-tissue cancer, in late 2015 to early 2016, according to the lawsuit. The couple were interested in natural therapies while Ibrisevic waited to be scheduled for the beginning of traditional cancer treatments.

On or near Jan. 11, 2016, Gonzalez told the couple that traditional cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy were for “uneducated” people and he could “guarantee” Ibrisevic would be cancer free with his treatments within three months, according to the lawsuit. He is further accused of telling Ibrisevic that “chemotherapy is for losers.”

In a lawsuit, Ahmetovic claimed that his wife was planning on undergoing conventional therapy for her cancer but changed her mind and decided to pursue naturopathic treatments in response to Gonzalez’s statement that “chemotherapy is for losers” and his other claims, particularly his claim that he could render her cancer-free within three months without the toxicity of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the results of Ibrisevic’s decision were sadly predictable:

Ibrisevic began treatments which included buying herbs from Gonzalez, massages, foot soaks, dietary instructions and other treatments. From January through May 2016, Ibrisevic and Ahmetovic paid Gonzalez and Natural Health Center for Integrative Medicine more than $7,000 for the treatments and herbs, according to the lawsuit.

When Ibrisevic began treatment, she had one tumor. When she discontinued treatment with Gonzalez she had seven tumors, according to the lawsuit.

“The original tumor became so large to the extent that it was visible outside of her body,” according to the lawsuit. “Her eyes began to turn yellow and her legs began to swell. After she discontinued treatment with the defendants, after one round of traditional chemotherapy, the only tumor that remained was the original tumor.”

Ibrisevic died of her cancer on February 27, 2017. Four days later, Ahmetovic went to Gonzalez’s office and shot him to death.

At the time, I documented the full extent of the quackery offered by Not-a-Doctor Gonzalez, including iridology and a whole host of unscientific, pseudoscientific, unproven, and disproven methods—basically the usual suspects beloved of naturopaths. I also noted how Gonzalez didn’t graduate from an “accredited” naturopathy school, which led organized naturopathy to use this tragic case of a woman who might not have had to die but died because a quack had conned her and her distraught husband who unfortunately decided to take violent revenge on the quack. It’s a sentiment that anyone can understand, but that I can’t condone.

So, after that recap, you’re probably wondering: Where’s the update? Here it is, in the form of a story published two days ago in the Bowling Green Daily News:

A man serving a 12-year prison sentence for crimes stemming from the shooting death of his late wife’s naturopathic caregiver appeared in court Monday and requested shock probation.

Omer Ahmetovic has served about 20 months of his sentence for second-degree manslaughter and tampering with physical evidence.

Ahmetovic, 36, was initially charged with murder in the March 2, 2017, death of Juan Gonzalez, 59, who was shot at his business, The Natural Health Center for Integrative Medicine, on U.S. 31-W By-Pass.

Basically, what happened after Ahmetovic was arrested was that he accepted a plea deal to plead guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter and the tampering count, which was added in a superseding indictment.

I had no idea what “shock probation” is; fortunately the article told me:

Shock probation is a form of early release available in Kentucky to first-time offenders convicted of certain crimes and is granted at a judge’s discretion.

To support the request, Ahmetovic’s attorney made several arguments:

In filings in the criminal case, Ahmetovic’s attorney, Alan Simpson, alleged that Gonzalez sexually assaulted Ibrisevic during at least one appointment.

Simpson filed the motion for shock probation Nov. 26, arguing that his client’s “own good judgment and character were overcome with anger and revenge” in the wake of his wife’s death.

“It is also quite clear that when (Ahmetovic) committed the offense, he was acting under extreme emotional disturbance that, quite frankly, is understandable, under the circumstances,” Simpson said in his motion.

Simpson’s request for shock probation included proposed conditions that Ahmetovic perform 1,000 hours of community service through Hillvue Heights and Fountain Square churches, complete anger management and grief counseling programs and continue undergoing psychotherapy for as long as necessary.

The response of the district attorney is that the homicide “may be understandable, but it’s not justifiable under the law.”

Personally, I’m torn here. The homicide was definitely understandable. Imagine yourself in Ahmetovic’s shoes. Your wife just died what was likely a horrific death that was potentially avoidable with science-based treatment. Worse, you and your wife had been ready to undertake that treatment until a quack named Juan Gonzalez said that “chemo is for losers” and spun a tale of how your wife could have the same result without all the toxicity and suffering of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Once you realized that your wife was not getting better and that you had been conned, your lawsuit against the quack appeared to be dragging on, with no assurance that you would prevail. The quack was continuing to con other cancer patients, just as he had conned your wife. The state was unlikely to do anything about the quack. On the other hand, we are a nation of laws. Vigilante justice is not acceptable. No one has the right to be judge, jury, and executioner, no matter how much it might appear to that person that the offender deserves to die.

In the end, though, I do think that some leniency is in order. Maybe shock probation after only 20 months is too lenient. Maybe it’s not. Again, I’m torn. It appears unlikely that Ahmetovic is a danger to society, and his children, having lost their mother, do need their father. Whatever is decided in this appeal, however, the story of Fikreta Ibrisevic, her husband Omer Ahmetovic, and the quack who killed Ibrisevic is a tragic saga that shows the damage these naturopathic quacks do.