This week's issue of The New Yorker features a profile of Mehmet Oz, a surgeon who also hosts a popular television program in which he encourages viewers to watch their weight and their blood pressure, and also promotes wildly unscientific claims about various beans and powders and pills.
And according to one source, it might never have happened except for baseball, in a roundabout way. In 1984, Dr. Eric Rose performed the first successful pediatric heart transplant. Two years later he hired Dr. Oz, and a few years after that Rose assigned Oz to his transplant team. And a few years after that ...
By that time, in the mid-nineteen-nineties, anti-rejection drugs like cyclosporine had helped make heart transplants common. They were no longer front-page news, unless they involved notable people. When that happened, Rose was often asked to perform the operation. On October 25, 1996, Frank Torre, the brother of the New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, received a new heart at New York-Presbyterian. Rose led the team and Oz was his deputy.
The transplant, which was a success, took place during that year’s World Series. The next night, the patient, who himself had been a successful baseball player and manager, watched from his bed as his brother’s team beat the Atlanta Braves to win the sixth game, and the Series. The publicity surrounding the operation was intense; a collage of articles about the event—“HEART OF THE YANKS,” the Daily News offered, in supersize type—still hangs in the cardiac-department offices at New York-Presbyterian.
“I had my fifteen minutes of fame,” Rose said. “It was great for my career and for the hospital, but frankly I learned that it wasn’t something I enjoyed.” Oz had an entirely different reaction to the attention. The Torre transplant, Rose said, “was his first big splash of publicity, and he loved it.” Rose laughed and suggested that the experience helped propel Oz toward his current career. I asked Rose what he thought of his disciple’s work as a television host.
“I want to stress that Mehmet is a fine surgeon,” Rose said, as he did more than once during our conversation. “He is intellectually unbelievably gifted. But I think if there is any criticism you can apply to some of the stuff he talks about it is that there is no hierarchy of evidence. There rarely is with the alternatives. They have acquired a market, and that drives so much. At times, I think Mehmet does feed into that."
I have to confess that I've never seen The Dr. Oz Show. Maybe if I watch a few episodes, I'll conclude that the good doctor is doing more good than harm. But man, those magic beans he keeps hawking ...