HCG diet blamed for killing West Chester, OH mom

Austin & Kayleigh Stewart look at photo book of their mom with their dad.
Austin & Kayleigh Stewart look at photo book of their mom with their dad.
Summer & Scott Stewart Wedding Photo.
Summer & Scott Stewart Wedding Photo.

WEST CHESTER, OH (FOX19) - It was 5:45 on a January evening and Scott Stewart walked-in to a dark house. Unusual because his wife, Summer, was often fixing dinner and taking care of their children around this time. Perhaps, he thought, she was taking a nap upstairs with the kids. He went to look.

In the darkness, he could see something at the top of the stairs. He flipped-on the lights. There in a bundle on the floor was his wife's body. He panicked, thinking something might be wrong with his kids, too. He screamed their names --- Austin and Kayleigh --- and turned-on more lights. They had been sound asleep.

Scott then called 911 and started doing CPR on his wife. But it didn't help. Not even the paramedics who arrived could get a pulse, though they took Summer to a hospital so doctors could try to do more to save her. Yet by that point there was no saving her.

"At first when Summer died it was just a heart-shattering experience, just beyond heartbreak," Scott said.

Summer wasn't only his wife. She was his best friend. They'd actually been friends before they started dating. Just seven years into their marriage, it was over. Scott immediately thought he knew why. Summer had been on the HCG diet for 18 days, something her OB/GYN had prescribed for her when she'd complained about having trouble losing the final 20 pounds of baby weight. She'd been restricted to just 500 calories a day, which is like only eating a couple of handfuls of peanuts and trying to survive.

"I thought it was (the diet) right when I came home, just that from limiting herself to 500 calories that something was off in the diet," Scott said.

The Butler County Coroner's Office agreed. The autopsy report lists the cause of death as "undetermined." But the pathologist who examined Summer's body wrote at length about why he believes the diet led to Summer having low blood sugar and not enough nutrients. Two-and-a-half weeks in, her heart literally couldn't take it anymore.

Just months after Summer died, the FDA sent warning letters to six companies it accused of illegally selling HCG products. The FDA now flatly states on its website that over-the-counter HCG diet products are illegal.

Earlier this year, while researching another story, FOX19 came upon court documents in Hamilton County that revealed Dr. Kurt Froehlich, a Cincinnati OB/GYN, was the one who had prescribed the diet for Summer. We've also learned that Summer's family recently settled a lawsuit against Dr. Froehlich. Terms of the lawsuit are confidential. But family attorney Nick Bunch does say it includes enough money that Scott is able to stay at home and raise his children.

Dr. Froehlich did not respond to FOX19's request for comment about what happened to Summer and whether he still prescribes the HCG diet to patients.

In the Stewart home in West Chester, Austin and Kayleigh laugh and ask questions about their mom while sitting on a loveseat with their dad looking at a hardback book filled with photos of her and the family. To his credit, Scott is open with them and isn't afraid to cry in front of them if that's what he's feeling. He's careful, though, to only give them as much information as they can handle.

"We told the kids first that God needed an angel, like Summer, up in Heaven," he recalled. "And since then, we've told them some more information as they get older and know a little bit more that she had a low blood sugar level, which caused her to die."

It's now been two-and-a-half years since Summer passed away. The kids are beginning to ask their dad when he might find them a step-mom. But dating doesn't exactly sound appealing when you thought you'd be spending the rest of your life with your soul mate, though he says he'll give it a try when he's ready. In the meantime, he's happy for the chance to step away from his career and raise his kids.

"They get to know their dad and I get to raise them and share stories about their mom," he said, his eyes filled with tears. "And teach them about their mom."

By sharing their story with others in the Tri-State, Scott hopes other people will be persuaded to stay away from the HCG diet.

"And I hope it'll save some other lives," he said, "so families don't have to go through what I've been through."

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