Despite the tremendous attention devoted to his death, the final agonies
endured by John Gotti remain cloaked in mystery.
Prison officials long refused to discuss Gotti's condition, citing patient
privacy. And autopsy findings remain tightly held.
In fact, most of what's known came from the mouths of Gotti loyalists, always
eager to build up Gotti's legend as a "lion-hearted" man of courage.
Those same friends and family now hint they are pondering a legal action
accusing the federal prison system of providing Gotti with shoddy medical care.
In 1998, Gotti was diagnosed with the head and neck cancer that eventually
ended his life on June 10 at age 61.
There are suggestions that the once barrel-chested Gotti weighed barely 100
pounds, possibly with chunks of his jaw and throat gone.
The ravages of cancer and chemotherapy and more than a year of being fed
through tubes no doubt left their mark on the handsome Don. But his family has
been tight-lipped about the toll it all took.
Lewis Kasman, who describes himself as an unofficially adopted son of Gotti's,
has railed against Gotti's medical care.
Family members have alleged that infections were allowed to fester around
Gotti's dental implants, possibly leading to the cancer.
"It's disgraceful," Kasman told the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader shortly after
Gotti's death. "All I can tell you is, it's disgraceful."
Cancer experts told the Daily News it's difficult to assess the family's
charge. But in general, experts said it's highly unlikely an infection around
dental implants could cause cancer.
"Dental implants would have no connection with these tumors," said one
oncologist. "The family will have no support for their allegations."
What is not in doubt is that the type of implants Gotti received have caused
painful complications for many.
Around 1988, after losing several teeth, Gotti tired of dentures and had
permanent implants surgically installed and his remaining teeth capped.
Dr. Leonard Linkow received custom suit from Gotti as show of gratitude.
For the hardest part of the procedure, the Gambino Godfather was referred to a
dentist known as the Father of Implants.
He visited the E. 50th St. offices of Dr. Leonard Linkow, a frank-talking New
Yorker with a shock of white hair. Linkow had been famous among dentists
worldwide since the late 1960s, when he introduced a new type of implant as an
alternative to dentures.
Linkow's invention involved carving a groove in the jaw bone and tapping in a
metal blade. Once the jaw and gums healed, Linkow attached artificial teeth to
posts rising from the blades.
It was a ground-breaking development that revolutionized the world of false
teeth. A professorship was created in his name at the New York University
College of Dentistry. A street in Germany was named after him. He spoke at
dental seminars worldwide. But like many medical advances, problems arose.
The blades were difficult to install. Infections could develop. Openings could
grow between the patient's mouth and nasal cavity. Most seriously, jaw bones
didn't always grow tightly around the blades, leaving the implants loose and
leading to bone deterioration.
Dentistry overwhelmingly left behind Linkow's blade implants in favor of other
types. But Linkow persisted.
Malpractice suits followed. Between 1988 and 1998, 18 patients sued Linkow for
malpractice. Records showed Linkow had paid $1.7 million to settle 15 cases.
That record earned him a spot in The News' investigation, published in March
2000, that revealed New York's most sued medical practitioners.
Since then, eight more malpractice suits have been filed against Linkow, court
Linkow denied wrongdoing in all the suits. He said the problems represented a
tiny percentage of the 19,000 implants he has successfully installed.
And he says Gotti not only remained loyal to him but also sought his care while
"I know he's a killer and everything else, but in the office he was a dream to
everybody," Linkow recently told The News. "He used to give the girls flowers
and money for lunch. He was a real gentleman up there."
When he first went to Linkow, Gotti still had his six front upper teeth, but
his upper jaw was gums behind his eye teeth. Linkow installed a blade implant
at the back of each side and built a bridge across the entire upper jaw,
including caps on the Don's famous front teeth.
"He was very happy with it, he was really thrilled with it," Linkow said.
As a show of gratitude, Gotti wanted to have a custom suit made for Linkow. The
offer came via Jack (The Nose) D'Amico, one of Gotti's closest associates.
"I said, 'No, no, I got plenty of suits, and I don't have enough time in the
world to wear the suit,'" Linkow said.
But D'Amico insisted, repeatedly, until Linkow recognized it was an offer he
"He kept saying, 'But John wants you to get the suits,'" Linkow said. "So I
finally got the suit. And I tell you, that suit will stop bullets."
Other Gotti associates also got new grins from Linkow, including Salvatore
(Sammy Bull) Gravano, the mob turncoat who eventually made charges stick to the
Teflon Don. Gotti continued to visit Linkow for regular cleanings and treatment
of infections until his conviction in 1992.
Linkow said he heard updates from Gotti associates that the Don's dental care
in prison wasn't up to snuff. Implants require regular cleaning to prevent
Then, in 1996, an attorney called and said Gotti had requested Linkow's
"She said, 'Dr. Linkow would you please be kind enough to go to Illinois? He's
having a lot of trouble with his lower teeth and implants, and he wants you to
come down,'" Linkow recalled. "I said I certainly will come down."
But soon after, another Gotti lawyer notified Linkow that prison officials had
denied the request.
Instead, their dentists planned to remove all of Gotti's lower teeth, implants
and all, and give him dentures.
Linkow said putting lower dentures against Gotti's upper teeth put those teeth
at risk, too.
"He could not wear that lower denture," Linkow said. "It was impossible for him
to wear it. So he was miserable, of course. He couldn't even eat."
Linkow said the lower denture could have loosened the upper implants and
"As they loosen up, the jawbone recedes, and then they start moving," he said.
The result could have been a wasting jawbone that left Gotti's face deformed.
Maurice Edwards, a Manhattan oral and maxillofacial surgeon, has treated former
Linkow patients, including a woman whose lower face collapsed inward from the
"Everything from her eyes down had that sunken-in look," Edwards said. "She
looks almost like she's malnourished, the way her face sinks in."
The woman had endured years of pain. She lost weight because eating had become
agonizing. She developed chronic infections and raw openings between her nose
"You could actually look into her mouth and see her sinuses," Edwards said.
If Gotti's condition followed suit, all the bone loss could have left the
hard-nosed Don with a glass jaw.
"Just normal chewing forces could actually break the jaw," Edwards said. "Then,
it generally doesn't heal right, causing further deformity."
Linkow blames prison dentists.
"They didn't care for him whatsoever, they were neglecting him terribly," he
said. "He was a killer and everything else, but he was still entitled to some
kind of treatment over there."
Shortly after Gotti died, Kasman told the Springfield newspaper he would ask
for congressional hearings into the federal prison medical center in
Springfield. But contacted by The News, he refused to discuss the topic.
"All I can say is that all avenues are being pursued," Kasman said.
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BLIND ITEM REHASH:
It's nice to know that there is some justice in the world.
I'm surprised that that doctor isn't landfill somewhere.
>Maurice Edwards, a Manhattan oral and maxillofacial surgeon, has treated
>Linkow patients, including a woman whose lower face collapsed inward from the
>"Everything from her eyes down had that sunken-in look," Edwards said. "She
>looks almost like she's malnourished, the way her face sinks in."
>The woman had endured years of pain. She lost weight because eating had
>agonizing. She developed chronic infections and raw openings between her nose
>"You could actually look into her mouth and see her sinuses," Edwards said.
Well, this certainly makes me want to go get dental implants!!