Vladimir Zelenko, a self-described “common country doctor” from New York’s upper state who rose to fame in the early days of the Covid-19 epidemic when his controversial treatment for the coronavirus was backed by the White House, died in Dallas on Thursday. He was 48 years old.
His wife, Rinat Zelenko, said he died of lung cancer at a hospital.
In early 2020, Dr. Zelenko, also known by his Hebrew name, Zev, spent about an hour northwest of New York City in the village of Kirias Joel, a village of about 35,000 Hasidic Jews, caring for patients.
Like many healthcare providers, he was shocked when the coronavirus began to appear in his community. Within a few weeks he insisted on an effective cure: a three-drug cocktail of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, the antibiotic azithromycin, and zinc sulfate.
He was not the first physician to promote hydroxychloroquine. But he began drawing national attention on March 21 – President Donald J. Two days after Trump first mentioned the drug at a press briefing – when Dr. Zelenko posted a video on YouTube and Facebook claiming that he had a 100 percent success rate. Treatment He asked Mr. Trump to accept it.
A day later, Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, contacted Dr. Zelenko for more information. Talk-show bookers have done just that. The following week Dr. Zelenko rounded out the conservative media, speaking on podcasts hosted by Steve Bannon and Rudolf W. Giuliani. Shawn Hannity of Fox News spoke about his research during an interview with Vice President Mike Pence.
“At the time, it was a brand new discovery, and I saw it as a commander on the battlefield,” Dr. Zelenko told the New York Times. “I realized I needed to talk to the five-star general.”
On March 26, the Food and Drug Administration gave doctors urgent approval to prescribe hydroxychloroquine and another antimalarial drug, chloroquine, for the treatment of covid. Mr Trump called the treatment “very effective” and perhaps “the biggest game changer in the history of medicine.”
But, as co-medical professionals began to point out, there was only his own anecdotal evidence in support of Dr. Zelenko’s case, and the little research that was done painted a mixed picture.
Yet, he turned out to be a man hero on the right, one who not only gave hope in the epidemic but was also an alternative to medical institutions, and Dr. Anthony Fausi, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who insisted that months of research were needed to find an effective treatment. .
Dr. Zelenko continued to text and speak with Mr. Meadows, Mr. Giuliani, and several members of Congress. But he clashed with leaders of Kirias Joel, who said his talk about treating hundreds of Kovid patients gave the impression that the community was overwhelmed by Kovid, potentially inciting anti-Semitism.
Over the next few months, researchers have expressed further doubts about the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found no benefit from treatment, and other studies have highlighted the risk of dangerous heart arrhythmias in some patients.
These results and others led the FDA to withdraw its emergency approval on June 15, 2020.
A calm, innocent man, Dr. Zelenko seemed unprepared for his attention, including harassing phone calls and even death threats. In May 2020, a federal prosecutor began an investigation into whether he had falsely claimed FDA approval for his investigation.
The same month, Dr. Zelenko announced in a video that he was stopping his practice and leaving the Kirias Joel community. He has accused several of its leaders of campaigning against him.
After the FDA revoked the approval of hydroxychloroquine as a covid treatment, he founded a company, Zelenco Labs, to promote other unconventional treatments for the disease, including vitamins and quercetin, an anti-inflammatory drug.
And while he claimed to be apolitical, he embraced the image of the victim of the establishment. He founded a non-profit, the Zelenko Freedom Foundation, to press his case. In December 2020, Twitter suspended its account, saying it violated the “ban on platform manipulation and spam”.
Dr. Zelenko was born in Kiev, Ukraine, on November 27, 1973, and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 3 years old, settling in the Shipshead Bay division of Brooklyn.
Her father, Alex, drove a taxi, and her mother, Larissa (Portnoy) Zelenko, worked in a fur factory and later, after studying computer programming, for Morgan Stanley.
In a memoir, “Metamorphosis” (2018), Dr. Zelenko writes that he grew up to be an atheist and entered Hofstra University as a recognized atheist.
“I’ve enjoyed arguing with people and proving to them that Gd doesn’t exist,” he wrote. “I have studied philosophy and been attracted to nihilistic thinkers like Sartre and Nietzsche.”
But after his visit to Israel, he began to change his mind. He was attracted to Orthodox Judaism and especially to the Chabad-Lubavich movement.
He graduated with a degree in chemistry from Hofstra in 1995 and his medical degree in 2000 from New York State University in Buffalo. After returning to Brooklyn for his residence, he moved to Monroe, a town with neighbor Kirias Joel, in 2004.
Dr. Zelenko worked for three years for Ezras Choilim, a medical center in Monroe, and advised the local Hatzolah Ambulance Service. He opened his own practice in 2007 with offices in Monroe and Montserrat, another higher city with a large Orthodox Jewish population.
In 2018, doctors found a rare form of cancer in his chest and, in hopes of treating it, removed his right lung.
Dr. Zelenko’s first marriage ended in divorce. With his second wife, he leaves behind their two children, Shira and Liba; His first marriage consisted of six children, Levi Itzchak, Ester Tova, Ita Devorah, Nochum David, Samuel Nosan Yakov and Menachem Mendel; His parents; And a brother, Ephraim.