TAMPA, Fla. — Four years after Tammy Rivero first began her legal fight against the Lung Institute, the 62-year-old has reason to claim victory, albeit a small one.
“I was excited. I want to relax and accomplish something for others,” she told us during a zoom interview from her home in North Carolina.
Rivero was responding to an order by a Hillsborough County Judge who recently certified her class-action lawsuit against the Lung Institute, LLC in Tampa. The clinic offers stem cell therapy for incurable lung diseases and has, in the past, touted itself online as an “innovative leader of regenerative medicine.” The class-action certification now opens the door for potentially hundreds of former patients who also believe they were misled about treatments they received at the clinic.
Several years ago, Rivero contacted the clinic in hopes of receiving treatment for several lung diseases. Rivero, who was a smoker, has been diagnosed with a number of lung diseases including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), black lungs and emphysema. She traveled down to Tampa for three days in 2014 for $7,500 in stem cell therapy treatments, she said, didn’t work.
“They said I would be able to regenerate my lungs and be able to breathe without oxygen,” she said.
After several weeks, Rivero said she still didn’t feel any relief.
“I started to get upset that someone would just take my money as sick as I was,” Rivero told us.
Ben Vinson represents Rivero and said he now hopes to represent hundreds of patients from around the country who also claim the clinic knowingly sold the dying and diseased false hope through unproven stem cell therapies. Stem cell therapy is limited in use and remains largely unregulated.
“It’s one thing for folks to try an experimental treatment when they have no other option but it’s another when the people who are offering that option know it doesn’t work,” Vinson said.
Since 2018, Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone has shared the stories of family members who believe they were taken for a ride by the Lung Institute’s aggressive marketing tactics.
In 2018, one former patient said, “It seemed like the day I had it, I started to get worse.”
A widow of a former patient also described her husband’s condition worsening after their treatments at the Lung Institute in Tampa.
These former patients and their widows accuse the Lung Institute of using aggressive and deceptive marketing tacts for stem cell treatments it knew “had no basis in medicine had no possibility of effectively treating” patients with lung disease according to lawsuit documents filed in the thirteenth judicial circuit.
In court documents, the Lung Institute which has changed ownership, denies it engaged in deceptive and unfair practices and said all patients signed consent forms before procedures. In a previous statement, the clinic’s spokesperson said the clinic treated thousands of satisfied customers and planned to “vigorously” fight the allegations.
On Thursday, Tammy Rivero’s condition has not improved. She told us she’s now on six liters of oxygen per minute.
“I’m alive but I can’t breathe,” she said.
After putting a lien on her home to pay for the $7500 treatment, she wants her money back and the satisfaction of knowing she fought back.
“Stop stealing from people. You know your procedures don’t work and you’re taking from people who are suffering,” she said.