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As one of the nation’s top burn surgeons, Dr. David Heimbach was a perfect choice to enlist as a star witness. His dramatic testimony about babies burned to death in furniture fires helped convince lawmakers they shouldn’t scale back use of flame retardants.
But the stories weren’t true, and the organization backing him turned out to be a chemical industry front group.
This week, facing disciplinary charges in the state of Washington, Heimbach surrendered his medical license.
State officials had alleged that Heimbach, whose activities were exposed in a 2012 Tribune investigation, fabricated testimony and falsely presented himself as an unbiased burn expert when, in fact, he had been paid $240,000 for his help.
Heimbach and manufacturers have defended flame retardants, which are added to furniture cushions, despite research that shows they don’t provide any meaningful protection from home fires.
Heimbach’s decision to surrender his license, made public Wednesday, represents a stunning fall. For 25 years, Heimbach was head of the burn center at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and was a longtime surgery professor at the University of Washington. He once received an award from the Dalai Lama for his care of burn victims around the world.
But he could not withstand the most serious charge against him: telling lawmakers false stories of babies who suffered fatal burns while on cushioning that lacked flame retardants. The infants, as he described them, did not exist.