When Van Koinis was found dead in September, shock reverberated through the southwest Chicago community where the 58-year-old paediatrician had practiced for decades.

Scores of parents posted tributes to the "gentle, compassionate soul" who saw their children through sickness and health, giving them his cellphone number and even refusing payment when they fell on hard times.

This week, they got a second piece of shocking news. Koinis had taken his own life and left behind a note suggesting he had falsified medical records for about a decade and may not have vaccinated their children, the Cook County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday.

"He was incredibly regretful for what he did and it was the only thing he mentioned in the suicide note," Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart told CBS Chicago. "It was this and only this."

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Koinis was missing for a month before he was found dead. Photo / Supplied
Koinis was missing for a month before he was found dead. Photo / Supplied

Because of his fondness for homeopathic remedies, Koinis had developed an underground reputation as a favorite doctor for anti-vaxxers, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Authorities are investigating whether he forged records so parents could falsely claim their children had received the immunisations required by Illinois schools, as his suicide note seemed to imply.

But they're also concerned that children whose parents weren't opposed to vaccines may not have been immunised, either.

"The biggest issue is parents who are under the impression their children are immunised when they are not," Dart told the Chicago Sun-Times, adding he had been "tortured" by the case.

Koinis, who had been licensed to practice medicine in Illinois since 1991, went missing in August, the Tribune reported.

Nearly a month later, he was found dead in a forest preserve outside the city. The news quickly spread on Facebook, where community members expressed confusion and disbelief.

"My children and I love him soooo much," one woman, who said she had been bringing her children to Koinis for 23 years, wrote. "He is like part of our family."

But before long, parents started reporting that they were having trouble getting their children's medical records from Koinis' office, according to Patch. The beloved family physician was a solo practitioner, and he had left his files in disarray. When investigators showed up, they discovered it was impossible to tell which patients had received crucial vaccines.

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In his suicide note, Koinis reportedly said he had been "averse" to immunisations for roughly the last decade of his career, and expressed regrets about his decision to go against accepted medical wisdom.

Though it's not clear what prompted the change of heart, Dart told Fox 32 Chicago that Koinis was "very despondent in his last communications with people" and had an "omnipresent sense of guilt" when he ended his life.

The note, which Dart described as "a little bit cryptic," didn't indicate that Koinis had gone against parents' wishes when they wanted their children to be vaccinated.

But given the ambiguity of the records he left behind, officials are encouraging any former patients to check with their current physicians so that they can be sure they're protected against communicable diseases.

Blood tests can determine whether patients have received some immunisations, but not all of them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When there's any doubt or records can't be found, the CDC advises that it's safe, though not ideal, to get the vaccine again.

Authorities are questioning whether the doctor's medical records are accurate. Photo / File
Authorities are questioning whether the doctor's medical records are accurate. Photo / File

Koinis was wildly popular in the village of Evergreen Park, the suburban Chicago community where he maintained his practice. On Zocdoc, where he received over 1000 glowing reviews and a five-star rating, parents praised him for being thorough, knowledgeable, attentive and caring.

One reviewer also noted Koinis "doesn't pressure you if you want to be more selective with shots!"

A state agency may have been investigating a complaint against Koinis at the time of his death, but there's no evidence the paediatrician was aware of that, Dart told the Tribune. According to the paper, he was never disciplined by a regulatory board during nearly three decades in practice.

When Koinis went missing, residents begged a local TV news reporter to investigate. (The reporter, Patrick Elwood of WGN, responded that Koinis was his children's paediatrician, too, "and a wonderful man.")

The news of his death on Sept. 10 inspired an outpouring of emotion from people who described him as "more than just your ordinary doctor," including one mother who recalled driving all the way from Indiana so she could keep bringing her children to Koinis even after the family moved. Another said Koinis once gave her money out of his own pocket to pay for a prescription.

"When I first had my daughter, we went into our first appointment and I was terrified as a new mom and he made it a point to check not only on my daughter, but on me constantly," Dana Hamed told CBS Chicago. "He would randomly text me and say, 'Hey, how's Lilly doing? How are you guys doing? How are you keeping up on being a new mom?' And I was absolutely blown away because I would have never in a million years imagined a doctor to do that."

In the wake of the new revelations, numerous parents have come to Koinis' defense, saying they never heard the paediatrician express reservations about vaccines. Some, including Hamed, have said they're not concerned because they personally witnessed Koinis giving their children shots.

"I'm the mother," another parent, Beata Przeradzki, told the Tribune. "I was there. I saw it."

But at least one parent had noticed something seemed off. Mary Mullaney told CBS Chicago that when she took her son for his 12-year vaccinations about a year ago, Koinis was different than she remembered. The paediatrician spent about 45 minutes ranting about how technology was ruining children's brains, then told her that her son didn't actually need the immunisations, she said.

"I believed him and then my son's school actually contacted me saying if he didn't have these shots that he wouldn't be able to come back," Mullaney told the station. "So when I went back to Dr. Koinis, he was kind of surprised. We got the shots. He gave it to him. I hope that's what he gave him."


Where to get help:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.