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VOCA Victims of Chiropractic Abuse
Connecticut General Assembly Public Health Committee Transcript
March 3, 2008

Connecticut Seal


Representative Lawlor


SENATORS: Caligiuri, Handley, Kissel, Roraback

REPRESENTATIVES: Adinolfi, Aman, Bye, Fox, Geragosian, Giegler, Godfrey, Gonzalez, Green, Hamm, Hamzy, Hurlburt, Klarides, Labriola, McMahon, O'Brien, O'Neill, Olson, Powers, Rowe, Serra, Stone, Taborsak, Walker, Wright

SEN. MCDONALD: Next is Janet Levy, followed by Merit Lajoie.

JANET LEVY: Good afternoon, Senator McDonald, Representative Lawlor, distinguished Members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is Janet Levy, and I'm here to support Senate Bill 483, which is AN ACT PROMOTING PATIENT SAFETY BY EXTENDING THE PHYSICIAN PROFILE.

Five years ago, I went to a chiropractor because I had gotten a stiff neck from sleeping on a new pillow. The chiropractor did what he told me was a completely safe adjustment on my neck.

The next day, I had gotten this terrible headache, got so dizzy and weak, I was unable to move and began vomiting. This lasted for about an hour, and then, all of a sudden, I got better, and it was just a weakness.

The next day, the chiropractor had to--

--mini stroke that precedes a major one. The chiropractor kept saying, no, you're fine. You just had a reaction to the adjustment. Many people have this kind of reaction to an adjustment.

You'll be fine in just a week. Trust me. Trust me. I'm a doctor. I know. I then asked him if I should go to a hospital, maybe get checked out.

He said, look. Why would you want to do that? I'm a doctor. If I thought there was something wrong, then I would tell you. You'll be fine. Needless to say, the next day, I was being rushed to the hospital.

I had a major stroke, emergency brain surgery.

After six weeks in the hospital, two years of expensive care and therapy, almost seven hours a day for two years, I was able to get my life back, as you see today.

But I found out what happened to me was not an isolated incident. There appeared to be tons of information, articles, and studies on the Internet directly relating the incidence of stroke to chiropractic manipulation.

I found out that there are also hundreds of young victims who are suffering as a direct result of this chiropractic adjustment. And I never knew that a chiropractic adjustment could ever cause a stroke or even have any risks at all.

If his educational information was available at the time, I could have found out that he was not a medical doctor, but rather he was a doctorate of chiropractic.

I would have gone to a hospital. I would have sought medical care, which probably would have saved my life, so that I wouldn't have to go through two years of literal hell.

Today, on the DPH's website, there is a category that says, you can get information that says all licensed physicians. Well, the State of Connecticut has given the chiropractors the right to call themselves licensed physicians in Connecticut.

They should be on this physician's profile. We need to find out their malpractice information, their education, know that they didn't have any training in hospitals.

You don't know this information, and it's very, a lot of people are getting hurt, and uninformed, needless, injured victims are popping up all the time, and it's, something has to be done. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify.

SEN. MCDONALD: Well, that you very much, Ms. Levy, for coming and testifying. It's, you know, we hear a lot of agency heads and association members, but it's extraordinarily important for us to have testimony from the people in the real world, I guess, who are involved in, frankly, advocating on important legislation. I very much appreciate you taking the time to come and testify today.

JANET LEVY: Thank you. You're welcome.

SEN. MCDONALD: Next is Britt Harwe, and I still don't see Judge Jones. So Michelle Lettieri, is Michelle Lettieri here? You'll be next, and then is Commissioner Danaher here? There he is. You'll be after that.

BRITTMARIE HARWE: Good afternoon, Senator McDonald, Representative Lawlor and distinguished Members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is Brittmarie Harwe, from Wethersfield.

I am the Co-Founder of the Chiropractic Stroke Awareness Group, which consists of hundreds of young people, mostly between the ages of 25 to 45, who have been injured by chiropractic adjustments.


On April 18, 1993, I was just 26 years old, the day before my daughter turned 2. I went to a chiropractor because of a sore shoulder and neck.

I had a stroke immediately following the chiropractic cervical adjustment. The chiropractor called 911 and reported his patient was having a reaction.

He didn't mention he had just performed a neck adjustment, nor did he mention that I became immediately so dizzy I was unable to sit or stand without his assistance.

I couldn't speak. I was unable to focus my eyes. I was taken by ambulance to the hospital, and tests revealed that one of my vertebral arteries was crushed during the adjustment.

I was left with many neurological disabilities, including left-side weakness, paralyzed vocal chord, and the worst of all, I lost the ability to swallow.

Since I can't swallow, I have a feeding tube that was surgically placed in my stomach. For the past 14 years, I haven't been able to eat anything except liquid nutrition.

This stroke has forever changed my life. Later, I learned from my attorney, this chiropractor had not only hurt me, but had a previous large malpractice settlement.

A large settlement usually involves severe injury or death. Had this information been available, it would have raised red flags, and I might not have gone to him for treatment.

Chiropractic treatment is always advertised as safe and natural. No risk is ever mentioned. As a matter of fact, I had asked the chiropractor before doing treatment if there were any risks.

I will never forget his response. He said some people have reactions. The next time I heard the word reaction was when he called 911. He called it a reaction, but it was a stroke, and I almost died.

Since such severe injury is a possibility with chiropractic adjustments, malpractice and other pertinent information about chiropractors should be made available.

Many of the victims I have spoken with had an artery torn during the neck adjustment. The symptoms of stroke happened right away, but there can be a delay of days or weeks before a major stroke happens.

Because of this delay, the cause is not related back to the original injury that caused the original cause of the tear. So malpractice is never filed, and chiropractor's medical malpractice liability insurance never increases.

So it is not a good indication of the safety of chiropractic neck adjustments. I feel chiropractors, above all, should be included in this law because Connecticut state law requires all licensed physicians to be included in this physician's profile.

By the statute, chiropractors are called licensed physicians. And since they have the privilege of using the title doctor, this information should be available.

The State of Florida has provided their residents with a similar system called the practitioner profile since 1997. I feel strongly the residents of Connecticut deserve the same benefits other states already provide their citizens.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express my concerns, and I hope you will support this bill.

SEN. MCDONALD: Well, thank you very much, and, obviously, it's more than just concerns. You have a very personally compelling story, and I appreciate you sharing it with Members of the Committee.

Let me profess my ignorance here and ask you a question. When there's a neck because, frankly, I've never gone to a chiropractor.

When there's a neck adjustment, and, as you indicated, there could be a tear of an artery or some type of early indicators that something went wrong, do you have any way of knowing whether early intervention at that point in time might have prevented the stroke from actually taking place?

BRITTMARIE HARWE: [inaudible] stroke information that's out now there's so much about stroke awareness, it is critical to get emergency medical treatment, especially within the first couple of hours.

There are new drugs out there that they can treat you with, clot busting drugs, if given in a right amount of time, can prevent some of the damage. So I don't know.

I was rushed to the hospital, but they had no idea why I was there. He didn't say he had done a neck adjustment or any of the symptoms of stroke he had witnessed.

I was 26 years old, and the hospital had no idea why I was there. MRI and MRA, which finally showed the damage, and the neurologist explained how it happened.

It didn't happen for like five or six days. By then it was too late. The damage was done. So it's very important for any stroke-like symptoms, to get emergency treatment.

SEN. MCDONALD: I just wanted to get a little bit more information from you about the causation issue that you said would preclude an action for malpractice against the chiropractor in a similar circumstance. What is it about the delay that would prevent a claim from being filed?

BRITTMARIE HARWE: Well, what happens, in my case, my artery was crushed during the adjustment, so the stroke happened immediately. Many times, your vertebral arteries run along inside your spine.

When the adjustment is done, an artery is torn. Every few layers in the artery, the tear may not go through all of them. Your body tries to heal itself.

A clot forms. Sometimes, that clot, you heal yourself. You'll never know that you had anything. A chiropractor wouldn't know. But if that clot forms, and it's not done healing, it could be hours, days, even a week later.

Movement, sudden movement can cause the clot to go into your brain, causing a stroke. So because of the delay, they don't know when the tear happened.

Well, if you go back and say when did you first start feeling these symptoms of stroke? Right after the adjustment.

Another misnomer chiropractors complain the symptoms of a torn artery are headache and neck pain. These are common symptoms people go to chiropractors for.

Well, if the, and many chiropractors will tell you, spokesmen of the ACA, saying torn arteries are very difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can be so similar to other symptoms of minor things.

Well, if a person is coming to them with headache and neck pain, and they suspect a possible tear, doing an adjustment will just make the tear worse, and the stroke can happen right away, again, or it can, depending on the size of the tear.

And since it can be a few hours or like the next day when the stroke occurs, it's hard to prove causation, so no claims get filed. Their malpractice doesn't increase.

But I've heard the same story from hundreds of people, even using the same words, reaction, don't worry. I, unfortunately, couldn't speak or talk, but many people who have had just the tear right after the adjustment have been dizzy, have been nauseous.

They've been told it's just a reaction. Oh, it's your body releasing toxins. Don't worry about it. Some people wait, and then, unfortunately, it's too late to get any kind of medicine when they do have the major stroke.

SEN. MCDONALD: Well, thank you very much. Representative Fox.

REP. FOX: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for your testimony this afternoon. I don't know if you mentioned this in your initial statement. Can you tell us what was the initial reason that you went to go see a chiropractor?

BRITTMARIE HARWE: I had a sore shoulder. I worked in an insurance downtown on the phone a lot, on the computer. One morning I woke up. It was very sore. It hurt to move.

I went to work that day, and I had called my regular doctor. They couldn't see me for a week. I had tried hot packs, aspirin, whatever. The next day, it was still there.

Finally, a friend at work said, you know, I go to this chiropractor. Why don't you try and go? And they got me in that day. So I went one day, and then I had a follow-up appointment. That's when my stroke happened.

REP. FOX: Now when you met with the doctor, the chiropractor, did they take any kind of a history of you? Okay.

BRITTMARIE HARWE: Yes. He asked, you know, about why I'm here, what brought me there, family history. I did ask him what could happen? And he mentioned you could have a reaction.

I guess I was very naive at 26. I didn't understand. He was very blasť about the way he said you can have a reaction. So I took it to mean an allergic reaction.

I had no idea they classify stroke as a reaction. Because if I heard the word stroke, that's something you really don't want to do. And I went to a chiropractor for a simple reason.

Many people go to chiropractors for very benign, simple reasons. There are other treatments that have no risk, but if you do want to continue with the chiropractic treatment, that's fine. You should just be told up front.

But also that is why to have all of this information available on a profile. They're called physicians. They're called doctor. The way it's advertised is always safe and natural. So you have no idea that there's risk, and when they say reaction, reaction.

If you can see information up there that there's malpractice claims sometimes, that might get you to question, well, if there's no risk, why are there these claims? I know there can be for all sorts of reasons, but it could be a red flag.

REP. FOX: Well, I mean, I've never been to a chiropractor myself either. I have, I do know people who have gone. Some of them do find some relief by going to a chiropractor.

BRITTMARIE HARWE: Oh, absolutely, from lower back pain. I've heard from a lot of people that have had benefit from that. And I don't say, you know, I'm not anti-chiropractic. I just want the information out there and available to the public.

REP. FOX: Well, I was going to say there's also some though, I know, who've gone who actually had some serious back problems, whether it's a herniated disc, something that was really wrong that would have been detected on an MRI, if that had been ordered.

And what happens is the chiropractic treatment can really make things worse, when you're in that kind of situation, so, you know.

BRITTMARIE HARWE: Absolutely. I mean, there's good and bad to all benefits, but what I'm saying is make this information available to the public.

REP. FOX: Okay. Well, thank you, again.


SEN. MCDONALD: Any further questions? If not, thank you very much.


SEN. MCDONALD: Jean Rexford, followed by Matthew Levy.

JEAN REXFORD: Good evening, Senator McDonald and Representative Lawlor and Committee Members. I will be very brief. I, too, am here tonight in support of Senate Bill 483, AN ACT PROMOTING PATIENT SAFETY AND ACCESS TO PROVIDER INFORMATION BY EXTENDING THE STATE PHYSICIAN PROFILE TO CERTAIN OTHER HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS.

There is an increase in the numbers of healthcare consumers seeking alternatives to our current delivery system. High co pays, health savings accounts and high deductibles, medical savings accounts are just a few of the reasons that individuals are looking at alternatives to the traditional medical establishment.

Many patients go to the DPH website seeking information, and, yet, it is incomplete. We need to include all healthcare providers on that website.

There have been important omissions, such as information on chiropractors. Patients might think that because there is no information that there are no safety issues and no malpractice claims against the provider.

Passing this bill, which would include these healthcare providers, becomes more critical as these alternative healthcare providers push to increase their scope and complexity of the services they want to provide for patients.

Healthcare providers who carry medical liability insurance should have the same standardized reporting requirements, thereby providing the public with critical information that would improve patient safety and quality in Connecticut.

SEN. MCDONALD: Well, thanks for your testimony. I've been here for, I think, almost every speaker. I haven't actually speak against this proposal yet.

JEAN REXFORD: It's good news.

SEN. MCDONALD: Have you heard whether anybody is [Gap in testimony. Changing from Tape 3B to Tape 4A.]

JEAN REXFORD: --sounds like good reasonable, sane bill.

SEN. MCDONALD: We'll have one this year. Are there any questions? Thanks very much.

JEAN REXFORD: Thank you.

SEN. MCDONALD: Next is Matthew Levy. Good afternoon, Sir.

MATTHEW LEVY: Good afternoon.

SEN. MCDONALD: Can you pull the microphone toward you? Thank you.

MATTHEW LEVY: Good afternoon, Senator McDonald, Representative Lawlor, and distinguished Members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is Matthew Levy, and I am testifying in support of Senate Bill 483, which is an act promoting patient safety and the availability of information.

I came up here today to testify in support of this bill because of the importance of this issue.

In 2002, my mother was severely injured by chiropractic manipulation. She went a chiropractor for a simple shoulder pain, and we almost lost her forever.

The chiropractor had torn an artery in her neck, which resulted in her having a stroke. I will never forget the day when I was in the hospital with my dad and my brother and we had to say goodbye to my mom as she wheeled away into surgery.

I was taken home by my mom's best friend. On the way, I asked Lori if my mom was going to be all right. When she started to cry, it hit me that I may never see my mom alive again. I will never forget that day.

For the past three and a half years, I have witnessed the emotional turmoil that this issue has caused so many other people, all because of a simple chiropractic adjustment. All these stories that I've personally read said the same thing.

They had gone to a chiropractor for a simple ailment that could have probably diminished with time, but instead they thought they would try chiropractic because they have read all their ads saying that they were safe and that they could help with all sorts of pains and afflictions.

They had no idea that chiropractic could forever change their lives by potentially damaging them or even killing them.

A simple chiropractic adjustment has killed people, and I have personally read their stories and have seen some of the death certificates attributing their unnecessary deaths to a chiropractic manipulation.

This bill is so important because of the affect computers had on the modern world. As a 16-year-old, I have grown up with the Internet being the most valuable resource for information, and most everyone of all ages is shifting sure to this technology.

I know that if my generation has a question about anything, they go straight to the Internet to find the answers, and they should be provided there.

The way the physician's profile is set up now is that it claims to include all licensed physicians. Most people will automatically assume that chiropractors are included in this list since they are considered physicians by the State of Connecticut.

When they don't show up on the list is the immediate assumption that chiropractors have no need to be on the list and that they are safe. I have learned that this is not the truth.

I have personally talked to many victims who were left paralyzed by a chiropractic adjustment. The possibility of injury needs to be made public.

And I believe that one of the first and most significant steps would be to include the profession on the Department of Public Health's website of physicians profile.

We all have a right to know the kind of information regarding any and all healthcare providers. We just need to be provided the access to it, especially when there's a major risk.

Before three and a half years ago, I did not know that to become a chiropractor, you only needed 2.0 to a 2.5 grade point average, nor did I know that chiropractors have no medical training in a hospital, nor did I know that chiropractors can seriously injure anyone.

This information should be provided, as it would in the physicians profile under this bill.

The greater importance of the Internet today makes this bill vital, as there is a great need for all information to be available online. People will be able to use this information to make their own educate decisions on what risks are too much and then hopefully be able to avoid any unnecessary harm.

In a society where a coffee cup says, caution, hot, may cause burns, I cannot see any plausible objection to this bill. Please support Senate Bill 483. Thank you.

SEN. MCDONALD: Thanks, Matt. That last point was a great one. You know, it is so true. I mean, the people who are seeking out chiropractors have very few tools at their disposal to understand what's at stake and, frankly, what the potential risks are.

And I just want to congratulate you on your eloquence. You're 16?


SEN. MCDONALD: Very impressive.

MATTHEW LEVY: Thank you.

SEN. MCDONALD: And very personal, and I appreciate you sharing it with us. How is your mother doing?

MATTHEW LEVY: She's fine.


MATTHEW LEVY: She's gotten better with a lot of work.

SEN. MCDONALD: With a lot of, and you have been here most of the day and heard a lot of the testimony.


SEN. MCDONALD: Did your mom have a lot of physical therapy as well?

MATTHEW LEVY: Oh, yeah. A couple years.

SEN. MCDONALD: Right. And your point about the Internet, you know, one of the people who testified indicated that her problems with a chiropractor date back 14 years.

And if my math is correct, it's actually right around the time that the Internet was getting rolled out, so it may not have helped as much back then.

MATTHEW LEVY: But in the future.

SEN. MCDONALD: But you're absolutely right. And you wouldn't have any reason to know this, I suspect, but we are, on a regular basis, considering legislation that requires government to put more information on the Internet on a whole variety of subjects, because you're right, it's where people go for their main sources of information now.

And if it's not here, it leads people into a false sense of complete knowledge, and that's not true. So I want to thank you for coming today and for testifying before the Committee.


SEN. MCDONALD: Are there any questions from Members of the Committee? Representative McMahon.

REP. MCMAHON: Just wondering, where do you go to school?

MATTHEW LEVY: Hamden Hall.

REP. MCMAHON: Hamden Hall. I would love to talk to your teachers and tell them what a great job you did and what an example, what a great example you were for yourself, and I hope your fellow classmates care about this.

MATTHEW LEVY: Thank you.

SEN. MCDONALD: Thank you. Thanks for your testimony.