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VOCA Victims of Chiropractic Abuse
Connecticut General Assembly Insurance & Real Estate Committee Transcript
March 4, 2008
 

Connecticut Seal
 

PRESIDING CHAIRMEN: Senator Crisco

Representative Dargan

COMMITTEE MEMBERS PRESENT:

SENATORS: Caligiuri, Hartley

REPRESENTATIVES: Clemons, Harkins, Nardello, Schofield, D'Amelio, Fontana, Geragosian, Megna, Roldan

SEN. CRISCO: Proceed on now to Senate Bill 471, AN ACT EXTENDING THE STATE PHYSICIAN PROFILE TO CERTAIN OTHER HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS. Janet Levy.

JANET LEVY: Good morning, Senator Crisco, distinguished members of the Insurance Committee. My name is Janet Levy and I live in Woodbridge, Connecticut. I am here to support Senate Bill 471, AN ACT EXTENDING THE STATE PHYSICIAN PROFILE TO CERTAIN OTHER HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS.

Last year when I testified for this bill I told you the terrible things that happened to me at the chiropractor's office. I went to a chiropractor one day for a simple sore shoulder I had gotten from sleeping on a new pillow. He did a cervical adjustment on me. He tore my vertebral artery and I had a major stroke.

I ended up having emergency brain surgery. I spent six weeks in the hospital and it took me literally two years of therapy, nearly seven hours every day to finally get my life back to normalcy.

I never knew that a chiropractor could cause me not only that much pain but the loss of two years of my life. And then to top it off 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 adjustment. I also found out that there were hundreds of young victims between the ages of 25 and 45 who had suffered a stroke after a chiropractic adjustment.

Since last year it is amazing how many people from around the country we've heard from who have suffered from the very same thing. I never knew that a chiropractic adjustment could cause a stroke or even have any risk at all. Not many people do.

If my chiropractor's educational information was available at the time I could have found out that he was not a medical doctor but rather he had a doctorate of chiropractic. I would have gone to a hospital and sought emergency medical care which would have saved me two years of agony.

Residents of Connecticut are able to look up now information on licensed physicians on Connecticut on the DPH's website but you can't for chiropractors even though they are able to by law call themselves physicians.

Right now the website says it profiles licensed physicians. So why aren't chiropractors on there? They are a licensed physician in Connecticut.

Chiropractors as of yesterday say that they are now in favor of this bill but they want to make sure that all healthcare providers are on this list also. There lists go on. They do not contain anybody that's a physician. However, what they're really trying to do by adding all these people on is get the bill killed.

By adding everyone on the list they know for sure that the state will find the cost prohibitive and nothing will be done.

The bill, first and foremost, should include chiropractors and probably any profession that has the privilege of referring to themselves as physicians so the consumer is not misled when reading a physician's profile with an inaccurate impression of credentials.

If the public were not to find a chiropractic physician on a state license physician's profile then they would get the impression that chiropractic is safe and that is absolutely not true. A cervical adjustment can cause permanent damage and even death. These are not risks to be taken lightly.

Unfortunately chiropractors will defend the risk by quoting their malpractice insurance rates that they pay per year. Some are between $3,000 and $4,500 per year. But what you don't hear is that most severe injuries done by a cervical adjustment is when they tear an artery and that's what causes the stroke.

When chiropractors tear the artery, the patient goes home. They have the stroke days, weeks and even months later depending on how much they tore the artery. That's what causes the stroke and it's never related back to them even though they caused the original tear.

How would anyone including an attorney relate the stroke back to a chiropractic adjustment? Up to now it's been very hard to do but not impossible.

But the more the public becomes aware of this risk which we intend to do the more attorneys will file malpractice claims in the future and the physician's profile will become critical information that would improve patient safety and quality in Connecticut. Thank you.

SEN. CRISCO: You're welcome, Janet. Any questions of Janet? Yes, Representative Geragosian.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: Hi, thanks for coming by today. We heard a similar bill in Judiciary Committee yesterday.

JANET LEVY: Correct.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: There's a little bit of difference in the language. Is there a bill you prefer of the two?

JANET LEVY: I know with the chiropractors they want to include dental hygienists, speech therapists, social workers, massage therapists, nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, occupational, physical therapists. They don't call themselves licensed physicians.

If you want to add that at some point, fine. But right now the physician's profile says licensed physicians in Connecticut. So people call, they're physicians. They call themselves doctors. They should be on there. It should be everybody that can call themselves doctor should be on there right now.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: I thought both bills were all inclusive. I'm not sure.

JANET LEVY: No, there's a section of wording of 38a in 976 or something that gets kind of cloudy.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: That they extend it to all, and that's been the argument.

JANET LEVY: Exactly. But that's what will kill the bill because then it will never get passed.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: I'm not sure. I don't think there are any other groups here testifying against this bill that I've seen.

JANET LEVY: No, the chiropractors will say they're for it. But what I am saying is they're for it but they don't want to be isolated. They don't want to feel that they've been singled out.

They'll be okay with it as long as all the other healthcare providers are on there. But it will go to Appropriations and it will be killed because it's thousands and thousands more people. The costs will be prohibitive.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: But I'm saying none of those other groups that are added on in this language in addition to chiropractors testified against the bill in Judiciary yesterday, for instance. I haven't seen that yet.

JANET LEVY: No, it's not a question about them testifying against it. I don't think they have anything to hide. The question is if they were to put these people on the physician's profile the state will not pass it through because of the budget, it won't be in the budget.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: In your own case were you able to file an action against the chiropractor?

JANET LEVY: Yes, and I did settle.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: So you're just looking for information for other consumers out there?

JANET LEVY: Like I said, I didn't realize there are literally hundreds of people, young women, young people across the country who have young families, can't support themselves never mind having to deal with a stroke. It's horrible.

Half of them are paralyzed. They can't move. They can't speak. They have limbs that can't work. They don't have jobs. They're on disability now.

The other thing that no one takes into consideration, because their malpractice is so low, no one goes after their malpractice, the insurance companies.

My medical bills alone were $250,000. I don't know anybody with even a slight stroke that it's under $50,000. So these medical costs just go right to their private healthcare.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: I just wanted to see, you had a right to sue?

JANET LEVY: I did because the guy wrote it down. I actually went to him, the next time, because they set up appointments one after another and I went to him the next time and said the night before I had headache, nausea, dizziness, severe, I was on the floor. I couldn't get up for an hour.

I had looked up, I was up all night looking up on the internet, he already had an appointment for the next time. In fact my husband and I had an argument about it because he wanted me to go to a hospital and I said no, I'm fine now and I'm going to a chiropractor and yesterday he told me he was a doctor so it's okay.

So I went to him and said do you think I could have had a stroke? He said absolutely not. We can't cause a stroke, which by the way on the ACA website it says clearly they can cause a stroke.

But he said he couldn't cause a stroke, it's not a stroke. So I went home, and I said to my husband you know what, he kept saying to me I'm a doctor, I'm a doctor, I'm a doctor, I know what I'm talking about.

So I didn't get emergency medical care which I should have because it would have saved two years of my life.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: I just wanted to make sure that not passing this bill is a hindrance to actually taking somebody to court. I mean I understand the issues.

JANET LEVY: It will show up. It will show up medical malpractice. It will show up their education. No one knows that they only have a 2.0 to 2.5 to get into the chiropractic schools. Nobody knows that they don't have training in hospitals.

They don't have residency, they don't have internships. They don't have anything near what medical people go through and I'm sure there are a lot of doctors here who know what they go through and yet chiropractors call themselves doctors and they hold themselves and say their education is equal to it.

It's not equal to it. It's nowhere near equal to it. A 2.0 to 2.5, I have a college student right now. He can't get into any college with that.

University of Bridgeport in particular that has a Chiropractic College, it's the only one in the nation that has one associated to a University, because of the University of Bridgeport who owned it.

To get into chiropractic school they need a 2.0 to 2.5, 2.0 is probably good enough they say, but if you want to become a nutritionist you need a minimum of a 3.0. It doesn't make any sense.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: I understand. I just wanted to make that very narrow point. I don't want to interfere; people have a right to sue if they feel they've been wronged.

JANET LEVY: Yeah, it happens all over. But this happens to happen a lot and they know it.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: Thank you.

SEN. CRISCO: Thank you. Any other questions? Thank you, we're glad you're feeling better.

JANET LEVY: Thank you.

SEN. CRISCO: Is it Brit?

BRITTMARIE HARWE: Good afternoon, Senator Crisco and distinguished members of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee. My name is Britt Harwe from Wethersfield, and I am co-founder of the Chiropractic Stroke Awareness Group, which consists of hundreds of people, mostly between the ages of 25 and 45 who have been injured by chiropractic adjustments.

I am testifying in support of Senate Bill 471. Almost 15 years ago I went to a chiropractor because I had 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 immediately became so dizzy I was unable to sit or stand without his assistance. I couldn't speak. I wasn't able to focus my eyes.

I was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Tests revealed that one of my vertebral arteries was damaged during the adjustment which caused the stroke.

I was left with many neurological disabilities including left side weakness, a paralyzed vocal cord and worst of all I lost the ability to swallow. Since I couldn't swallow without aspirating, a feeding tube was surgically placed in my stomach.

For the past 14 years, I have not been able to eat anything except liquid nutrition that is poured directly through my tube. The stroke has forever changed the lives of my family and myself.

I later 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 a red flag since chiropractic treatment is always advertised as safe and natural. No risks are ever mentioned.

As a matter of fact I asked the chiropractor before beginning treatment if there was any risk with a neck manipulation. I will never forget his response.

Some people have reactions. The next time I heard him use the word reaction was when he called 911. He called it a reaction. I was having a stroke and I almost died.

Many victims I have spoken with had arteries torn during the neck adjustments and immediately experienced symptoms of stroke, only to delay seeking the necessary emergency medical care needed because they were told by their chiropractors not to worry that their bodies were just releasing toxins or it's just a reaction.

When an artery is torn there can be a delay of hours, days or weeks between the original injury during the adjustment and the impending stroke.

Therefore, it's underreported and many malpractice claims are not filed. Chiropractors claim that their low malpractice rates are a reflection of the safety of their profession. This is simply not true.

How can chiropractors know how rare strokes are if they don't even recognize the symptoms in their own patients?

If strokes do not happen at the chiropractor's office but instead happen days or even weeks later after the artery is torn and no one relates it back to the chiropractic adjustment then again I ask how do they know it's so rare.

By judging from the number of people that I've heard from I don't think that hundreds of people can be considered rare or insignificant. Chiropractors are called physicians and have the privilege of using the title doctor and therefore must be included in the physician's profile system.

Senate Bill 471 would provide the public with important information about chiropractors that is available only for medical and homeopathic physicians right now. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express my concerns.

I hope you will support Senate Bill 471 to ensure this bill's passage to provide the citizens of Connecticut with vital information, especially since such severe injury is a possibility with chiropractic adjustments.

SEN. CRISCO: Thank you, Britt. Representative Geragosian.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: Thank you. I saw you yesterday at Judiciary. The same question I asked Ms. Levy, in terms of which bill do you prefer and why?

BRITTMARIE HARWE: Well, the bills are very similar. The Judiciary bill specifically stated which professions and included five others. The way this bill is written it refers to medical providers as defined in Section 38a-976.

This also includes clinical dieticians, occupational, physical and speech therapists, pharmacists. None of these professions call themselves physicians or use doctor.

Because of the severe injury that is a possibility with chiropractic adjustment, they are called doctor, people turn to them for advice, listen to them and delay treatment.

I think any healthcare provider that is using the term doctor or is referred to as physician needs to be included immediately. And I hope adding all of these other professions won't make this bill eventually cost prohibitive.

REP. GERAGOSIAN: Okay. Thank you.