Richard Fuisz, M.D. is a Georgetown-educated psychiatrist, inventor, and former CIA agent who has known Elizabeth Holmes since childhood. I spoke with Fuisz after I wrote my first article about Theranos on October 16, 2015, a day after Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou wrote his first article about the company.
In June 18th and 19th telephone interviews with Fuisz, he shared his thoughts on Carreyrou’s book, Bad Blood, and revealed six warning signs he thinks should have stopped Holmes from inflicting all that pain on investors, patients, and employees.
Before getting into those warning signs, you should know that Fuisz is far from an objective observer. He told me that when she was a child, her parents were friends with Fuisz and his ex-wife in Washington, DC. Fuisz said “Holmes’s parents told her she should become an inventor like Dr. Fuisz.”
He liked the Carreyrou book but did not agree with it completely. As he said, “John is a friend and his book had multiple sources. I found it too painful to read the whole thing. But I doubt the quote in the book from the seven-year old withdrawn Holmes: ‘I want to become a billionaire because then a president will want to marry me.'”
And he is among those who have been harmed by Holmes. As Bad Blood documents, he was the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by Theranos in 2011 against Fuisz and his son, John. Fuisz had patented a process for sending blood test results from Theranos’s blood testing machines to patients and doctors.
Fuisz says Theranos spent $5 million on lawyers, he spent $200,000 a month to defend the suit — and ultimately represented himself. The case was settled in 2014 at which point Theranos’s attorney, David Boies, said, according to Fuisz, “We know you didn’t steal the patent, but we have a client.” Fuisz concluded: “If she had come to me and said, ‘I am low on money can I have the patent?’ I would have sold it to her for a $1.”
Despite the pain Holmes caused Fuisz, I think investors, partners, and employees should have heeded his six warning signals that she was trouble — what Carreyrou referred to as Holmes’s sociopathic tendencies.
1. Holmes’s Lies
Fuisz told me he does not have proof that Holmes lied. But Carreyrou is confident that she did. The New York Times noted in its review of the book
Carreyrou writes that “Holmes and her company overpromised and then cut corners when they couldn’t deliver.” To hide those shortcuts, they lied. Theranos invented revenue estimates “from whole cloth.” It boasted of mysterious contracts with pharmaceutical companies that never seemed to be available for viewing. It spread the story that the United States Army was using its devices on the battlefield and in Afghanistan — a fabrication.
The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, who on June 15 charged her and Theranos’s former president with wire fraud, is also confident that she lied.
2. Holmes’s Obsessive Imitation of Steve Jobs
Holmes did an exceptional job of finding out how Steve Jobs looked and acted and went to obsessive lengths to imitate him.
As Fuisz said, “Why was this not disturbing to Elizabeth’s parents to [former board members, George] Shultz and [Stanford Emeritus professor of chemical engineering, Channing] Robertson? She wore Jobs’s black turtleneck, she had her picture taken with a slimming lens to make her neck look thinner, she had staff meetings at the same time as Jobs did, she imitated his body language — pulling the nanotainer [where Theranos would store the drop of a patient’s blood it claimed it would test] out of her pocket the same way Jobs did with the iPhone.”
Fuisz thought this should have been a signal of trouble. “When I was in the CIA we trained agents in the Middle East. I told the trainers to be careful of someone who adopts the culture too much — wearing Arabic robes and converting to Islam.”
3. Holmes’s Comfort With Foisting a Broken Blood Tester on the World
Fuisz is shocked by the immorality of using the public as a guinea pig for a broken blood tester. “If she was doing this with a coffee pot, it would be a different story. But how many people ended up in the emergency room because of a false positive blood test from Theranos? How many people were lulled [into a false sense of security because the Theranos test did not detect a real problem]?”
4. Holmes’s Willingness To Use Theranos’s Product On Children
He is especially appalled at Holmes’s willingness to use the Theranos technology on children. “How could you recommend it for children? There is a special place three rings down in hell [to punish Holmes] for doing that,” he said.
5. Holmes’s Lack Of Medical and Scientific Knowledge
Holmes had completed a high school education and dropped out of college after taking a few science courses. “She had no training. If she had, she would have known that the finger tip is one of the most sensitive parts of the human body. You do not want to draw blood from there due to the pain. What’s more, drawing blood from a finger-stick introduces impurities which when a drop is diluted, contributes to testing errors,” said Fuisz.
Fuisz is also outraged about Theranos investor Tim Draper’s criticisms of venous blood draws. As Fuisz explained, “With venous blood draws today, pain is minimal and the sample quality is much higher. How could Draper — who inherited billions of dollars from his father — keep talking about gallons of blood [from the venous blood draw]?”
6. Holmes’s Indulgence in a Child’s Fantasy
Finally, Fuisz faulted Holmes’s mother for indulging her daughter’s childhood fantasies. “Elizabeth’s mother Noel told my ex-wife about Elizabeth’s idea for a wrist bracelet with needles that would test peoples’ blood in real-time, detect diseases, and administer drugs all in the same device. These are the thoughts of a child.”