September 2011

The Resort Doctor: Hickey Wellness Center Goes Beyond Traditional Medicine

Author: Peter Zink | Photographer: John Brackett

John Morabito had a problem. Diagnosed with a bone marrow disease called pancytopenia, bone marrow transplant centers in New York told him he had only six-eight months to live.

But Morabito wasn’t ready to give up so easily. He took a trip to Hilton Head Island and met one of his wife’s cousins, Dr. Joseph Hickey. Luckily, Dr. Hickey wasn’t a typical physician. He took the bleak diagnosis as a challenge, and looked at alternative treatment options that might help Morabito return to normal.

“I had been researching heavy metal toxicity, which is something that was not taught to me in my traditional schooling,” Hickey said.

As a plumber who might have been exposed to excessive doses of lead over the years, Morabito seemed like an ideal test case for heavy metal toxicity. So Hickey started off doing what most physicians are taught when testing for heavy metal toxicity: he took a blood sample. It came back completely normal.

Undeterred, Hickey went back to the toxicology literature and discovered something interesting. When we’re exposed to toxic heavy metals, the metals are transported through our blood stream. There’s just one problem. The metals don’t stay there for long. In fact, they often stay for less than two weeks. Most toxic metals have a strong positive charge, and strong positive charges like to play with strong negative ones. A person’s bones just happen to have a strong negative charge—the same bones Morabito was told were giving him only six-eight months to live.

Once Hickey realized that blood samples were an inaccurate way to measure heavy metal toxicity, he went ahead and performed his first chelation on Morabito. Chelations have been around for over 50 years but have only been getting serious attention again in the last two decades. The procedure essentially neutralizes the positive charge of the toxic heavy metals in the body by converting them to an inert form and having them exit the body. Within weeks of chelation, Morabito’s bone marrow was back to normal and the marrow transplant centers were proven wrong.

Since that first treatment, Hickey regularly incorporates chelation with patients. “It’s a very safe procedure and we know how to do it properly here. I think chelation got some bad press years ago because it was handled improperly with children. But when you look at the statistics, it’s no more dangerous than aspirin fatalities.” And he doesn’t restrict a procedure like chelation to obscure bone marrow conditions either. He’s had great success treating fibromyalgia and even Parkinson’s disease.

But heavy metal treatment is just one way Hickey chooses to eschew the traditional “treatment only” school of thought and instead diagnose and treat root causes. Unlike a lot of modern practices, you’re never going to be rushed with him. Patients typically spend two-three hours with Hickey on their first visit.

The Hickey Wellness Center Staff

“People like to call me the Resort Doctor, or the Last Resort Doctor,” Hickey said with a chuckle. “I’m not always sure why. I often have patients who come to me after extensive treatments and effort elsewhere first. So we go through their entire medical history and lifestyle habits. The lifestyle habits are especially important.”

Lack of time with his patients was definitely a factor in choosing to open the Hickey Wellness Center in 2004. “I wasn’t spending the time I really wanted to with each patient prior to that,” he said.

Born and reared in Peekskill, New York, Hickey graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1973, performed a medical internship at Jackson Memorial Hospital and completed his residency at Montefiore Hospital with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.

He practiced internal medicine in Peekskill until 1994, when he escaped to the warmer climate of Hilton Head and joined an existing internal medicine practice until he started the Hickey Wellness Center ten years later.

Establishing the wellness center has allowed him to continue practicing what he’s interested in and to explore avenues that wouldn’t traditionally be open to him. Taking his heavy metal toxicity research further, he recently presented a study to the International College of Integrative Medicine and the American College for the Advancement of Medicine where he showed that 50 percent of hip fractures lead to fatality, and how heavy metal toxins released from the fracture could be significantly contributing to those fatalities. His efforts have certainly brought wider attention to the issue.

He’s also a strong advocate for the Atkins Diet, after his own research showed that it could help fight disease. Just like with heavy metal toxicity, Dr. Hickey found a traditional reading to predict heart disease, cholesterol level, wasn’t telling the whole story. It’s the proteins (called lipoproteins) that actually carry cholesterol that are of particular concern, he explained. Large lipoproteins are great—they help clean your arteries and prevent heart disease. The small ones are a different story. They’re typically ineffective and penetrate the artery wall to build up plaque.

How does a person maintain the right lipoproteins? Restrict carbohydrates, which is exactly what the Atkins Diet does. Hickey found that lipoprotein size increased in patients who restricted their carbohydrate intake. “It’s a big deal. We send blood samples to Raleigh, North Carolina to get an accurate count of lipoproteins, which is so much more important than your total cholesterol,” Hickey said.

The Hickey Wellness Center’s Welcome Area

So the next time you take a trip to the doctor’s office, don’t settle for the first answer you hear. With ever-expanding research and a willingness to try alternative treatments, the Hickey Wellness Center offers options and diagnoses that a traditional practice might overlook.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (843) 842-9960 or visit

  1. I was Doctor Hickey’s first Fibromyalgia patient and I can’t say enough positive things about the entire staff and level of care one gets at the Hickey Wellness Center.

    — Dawn Duff    Sep 2, 04:38 pm   

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