updated 2/13/2004 2:38:37 PM ET 2004-02-13T19:38:37

An Omaha cardiologist accused of inappropriately obtaining a report on the death of diet guru Dr. Robert Atkins said he never misrepresented his position or intended the information to go to the media.

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The New York City medical examiner’s office has said Dr. Richard Fleming was mistakenly sent a copy of the report after requesting it. The office said it believes Fleming gave it to Physicians for Responsible Medicine, which released details of it earlier this week. Such reports typically are released only to a physician who had treated the individual.

Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the New York medical examiner, has said her office sent a letter to Nebraska health officials claiming Fleming inappropriately obtained and distributed a copy of its report. Fleming denied the accusation in a statement on Thursday.

“I clearly stated that I was not a treating physician or family member of anyone they had done an autopsy on,” Fleming said.

Information in the report showed Atkins was at a weight normally considered obese when he died in 2003. The report also showed the 72-year-old had a history of heart trouble, including congestive heart failure and high blood pressure.

Fleming said his interest in the report was scientific and he wanted to gain insight into the health effects of the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet Atkins promoted and millions now follow.

'Sense of betrayal'
In recent weeks, Fleming received numerous calls from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine asking for copies of the Atkins report, Fleming said in the statement. He said he never intended for the information to go public and felt “a sense of betrayal” because the report had been provided to the group “for research purposes only.”

But Dr. Neal Barnard, who is president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said it was Fleming who took the initiative to contact his staff about the report.

“He was well aware that the report was being released to the press,” Barnard said.

The intention of releasing the information was to stop the promotion of the diet based on Atkins’ health, Barnard said.

The Atkins Physicians Council has defended Atkins’ health and said his cardiomyopathy, or enlarged heart, was due to a viral infection and not a poor diet. The group has also attributed Atkins’ weight gain to fluid retention in the eight days he spent in a coma before he died last April.

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