It looked like a scene at Lourdes -- 150 people gathered in the night, some clasping Bibles, many thin with cancer, each waiting for a chance to defend their healer.
"To me there is no doctor like Dr. Roberts," said Carol M. Dunn, a Washington editor stricken with cancer whose 51-year-old face is a portrait of torment.
She and the others -- some aided by canes or wheelchairs -- had come to Loudoun Memorial Hospital in Leesburg on behalf of Dr. Thomas J. Roberts, 48, a University of Virginia-educated physician whose unorthodox methods have temporarily cost him his hospital privileges but won for him the unflinching support of scores of patients.
"I consider myself a good doctor," said Roberts, a soft-spoken man with a background in Bible college and agronomy. But the doctor, who faced a hospital peer review committee in closed session Wednesday night, could lose his privileges permanently in his battle with the county's medical establishment.
Many of Roberts' patients suffer from what the medcial establishment has diagnosed as terminal illness and have been through the rigors of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. To them Roberts represents their own ability to outline the odds and, as one patient put it, the "Freedom to be able to choose the course of treatment."
But that treatment is indeed unorthodox. Many of those who filled the hospital lobby and spilled out onto the sidewlak told of Roberts' "detoxification" program which included weekly enemas with coffee. Others spoke of laetrile treatment, diets of minerals and enzymes, and the total absence of conventional medication.
Roberts' "holistic" approach to medicine, seeking to treat not only the symptoms but the causes of physical and spiritual disorders, often involves praying with the patient for his recovery, said many of his patients.
Eight weeks ago Roberts was barred from Loudoun Memorial for reasons the hospital refuses to make public.
"He's a good Christian man," said Harry Ivey, 72, a retired Washington cab driver who claims Roberts' laetrile and mineral treatments and prayers have improved his cancer of the prostate and spine.
"He's done me as much good as any doctor. He's fixed me up when I was in tough shape," declared Issac Redmon, 89, a retired farm worker as he clutched his redwood cane.
When Roberts emerged from Wednesday night's hearing, cries of "Praise the Lord" were heard in the hospital lobby. His supporters filled the hospital chapel, praying for his deliverance and that of his "persecutors."
"I consider myself a good doctor with patient care my primary concern," Roberts said later in an interview. "Because of that I have sought answers to unanswered questions that have taken me to unorthodox channels of medicine and I have found some answers."
Roberts said he has not been told of specific charges against him and does not know why the hospital has temporarily revoked his privileges.
"He knows exactly why," said hospital attorney Woodrow W. Turner yesterday. "The hospital is simply doing what it is required to do by law. We're fulfilling an obligation that is mandated by federal and state law and by the medical and hospital code of professional responsibility."
Before coming to Loudoun Memorial in 1971, Roberts spent four years in Afghanistan as a medical officer with the State Department. It was about five years ago, he said, that he began practicing "metabolical therapy" after he "discovered" the nutritional aspects of medicine.
When his recent troubles began, he wrote to many of his patients notifying them of Wednesday's meeting and suggesting that they might want to testify on his behalf.
In addition, 840 letters went out under the name of the Medical Patient Relations Legal Fund to Roberts' patients nationwide. The letters asked for contributions to a defense fund to support the doctor's push for reinstatement of hospital privileges, according to the group's treasurer, Ann Watson, of Aldie, Va.
More than $1,000 has been collected in the few days since the letters were mailed, she said.
Roberts says he foresees a long battle with the hospital and says he has been summoned to appear before the state licensing board in Oct. He says the loss of his hospital privileges has been a financial burden, but that he continues to see patients at his Leesburg office.
And his patients, many of whom drive several hours to see Roberts, say they will continue to rely on his medical advice whether he loses his hospital privileges or not.