By Mark Ambrogi
In the world of medical textbooks, Doug Zipes compares himself to famed novelist John Grisham.
“In the fiction world, I’m a nobody,” the 77-year-old Carmel resident said. “For example, the public library in Columbus, Ind., asked me to do a book signing of my second novel. My wife and I went down there and three people showed up. Three days later, we flew to Amsterdam for the European Society of Cardiology, and 60 countries gave me their gold medal in front of 3,000 people.”
An Indiana University distinguished professor of medicine, pharmacology and toxicology, Zipes’ third novel, “Not Just a Game,” was released in April. His book centers on a three-generation Olympic family and culminates with the Rio Olympics, but it also touches on connections to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and 1972 Olympics in Munich, where 11 Israeli Olympic team members were taken hostage and eventually killed.
“I didn’t start writing it to debut in an Olympic year, but it ended up that way,” Zipes said. “This is my first historical fiction. I’ve taken a lot of very valid history and put it into this. I’ve been fascinated by World War II, the horrific Holocaust issues and (Adolf) Hitler.”
His library contains many books about Hitler and Eva Braun.
“I’m convinced Hitler survives World War II and flees to South America,” Zipes said, admitting that book’s premise that Hitler was trying to start a Fourth Reich from Argentina is just speculation.
Zipes said his book’s timing is right if the Olympics take place as planned in August.
“Frankly it would not surprise me if they called it off or postponed it,” Zipes said. “They have unfinished venues, there is incredible violence, the Zika threat and sanitation issues in the water. It just goes on and on.”
Zipes, who stopped seeing patients one year ago but still instructs and lectures, has written 30 textbooks and nearly 900 medical articles.
“One of my textbooks has been translated into seven or eight languages and is used by five of six cardiologists,” said Zipes, who joined Indiana University in 1970 and became a professor of medicine in 1976.
His first novel, “The Black Widows,” is about two elderly women who are running a terrorist organization.
“It has a major medical hooker that makes it fascinating,” Zipes said.
His second novel was “Ripples in Opperman’s Pond.” He said he draws on two actual trials where he was an expert witness.
The first trial was the sudden death of Reggie Lewis, a Boston Celtics player who suffered a sudden cardiac arrest while practicing in the summer and died at age 27 in 1993.
“His widow sued the doctor for malpractice, and I was asked to come to Boston to defend him at trial, which I did successfully,” Zipes said. “The second trial was when I was a plaintiff expert against Merck for their drug Vioxx, an arthritis drug. (The) allegations were (that) they hid cardiovascular side effects and caused heart attacks and deaths to many people. We won a $51 million judgment against Merck. I put the two together into a story.”
Zipes said using background from his medical experience seems natural.
“I think any author draws on personal background,” he said. “You might come across a character who you know would be an interesting character in a story or events that happen to you.”
Zupes said his novels are a labor of love.
“One of the first things I was advised is not to give up your day job,” he said. “I don’t think I made anything from the novels to change my income tax bracket. The competition is staggering. There are a million new titles published annually in the United States today. If you’re not (James) Patterson, Grisham or (Stephen) King, it’s tough. An unknown cardiologist trying to get published is probably saying if you’re not Zipes, you’re not going to get (medical textbooks) published.”
Meet Doug Zipes
Born: Feb. 27, 1939, in White Plains, N.Y.
Education: Undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College, followed by Harvard Medical School. Did postgraduate cardiology training at Duke University.
Personal: He and his wife, Joan, have three children, Debra, president of Indiana Afterschool Network, Jeffrey, a partner in Coots, Henke & Wheeler in Carmel, and David, pediatric hospitalist at St.Vincent.
Why he stayed at IU: “I’ve turned down Mass General, Georgetown, Stanford, Beth Israel in Boston, probably 20 places. Each time I’d come back and say, ‘I like the life here in Indianapolis.’ I like the fact (IU administrators) support research and consider it very important. They support teaching. They’re excellent doctors supporting excellent health care.”