VOCA Victims of Chiropractic Abuse
Woodbridge woman fights for warning label
Published: Saturday, January 2, 2010
By Mary E. O’Leary, Register Topics Editor
NEW HAVEN — Janet Levy of Woodbridge will be back in Hartford this week in her continuing fight for mandated warnings from chiropractors about the risk of stroke from neck manipulation.

The Connecticut State Board of Chiropractic Examiners will hear testimony beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at the Legislative Office Building, from patients, or survivors of patients, the Campaign for Science Based Healthcare and the Connecticut Medical Examining Board, as well as counter-testimony from the International Association of Chiropractors and other chiropractic groups.

Seven years ago, after experiencing a sore shoulder from sleeping on a new pillow, Levy said she went to a chiropractor for treatment.

Shortly thereafter, she suffered a stroke, which necessitated brain surgery and years of therapy. Now 54, she still has neurological deficits, persistent pain and can’t walk more than one-quarter of a mile.

What she has done since then is advocate through the Victims of Chiropractic Abuse for state-mandated informed consent for patients so they clearly know the risks, as well as a discharge summary that would explain signs of a stroke so as to access timely medical attention.

Levy and Brittmarie Harwe of Wethersfied, who suffered a stroke and paralysis in 1993 after her left vertebral artery was crushed, testified in 2007 before lawmakers about the need for the written consent form.

A year later, lawmakers agreed to put chiropractors on a registry so patients could see if there were any complaints against them.

This year, Levy agreed to stop running ads on buses warning about the possibility of a stroke, in exchange for a hearing by the Board of Chiropractic Examiners where it would consider mandating this consent as part of its professional standards.

Matthew N. Pagano, spokesman for the Connecticut Chiropractic Association, objects to the proposal as unfair, because it singles them out, and as unnecessary.

He said the group “unequivocally supports” a patient’s right “to be informed of the benefits and risks of any type of health care treatment, not just chiropractic treatment. Legislative or regulatory mandates governing informed consent should apply to all health care providers and all treatments in equal measure.”

Pagano, a chiropractor for 17 years in Winsted, said the risks advocates cite “simply aren’t there.” He said the low cost of medical malpractice insurance for chiropractors also says “what we do is inherently safe.”

In testimony already submitted by the International Chiropractors Association, the group said the need for a “formal informed consent mechanism ... is not supported by the research or clinical record, nor does such a requirement best serve the public interest.”

The Connecticut Medical Examining Board, however, recommends such a mandate be adopted for chiropractors.

“While the precise extent of vascular injury is uncertain, should it occur, it may result in stroke, paralysis and/or death. Informed consent requires that these significant risks be disclosed,” wrote Anne Doremus, chairwoman of the medical board.

Levy said she has been given names of hundreds of patients who have been hurt, many of them young adults in their 20s and 30s, who don’t have good health insurance to deal with the injuries.

Jann Bellamy, president of the Campaign for Science Based Healthcare, recently said she will testify that cervical manipulation is an independent risk factor for stroke.

State Sen. Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven, has championed Levy’s cause, saying he has been contacted by a number of people who believe they or their loved ones have suffered serious side effects following chiropractic adjustments.

“There are some who believe this is an attack against chiropractors and such criticism is both self-serving and misguided. Chiropractors are a fundamental part of our health care system and will continue to help many patients,” he said in testimony already submitted to the board.

While chiropractors argue these risks are rare, a clear warning seems prudent, he said.

“In a day when McDonald’s coffee cups contain a warning label, it seems a reasonable and a strong public policy argument, that a consent procedure be established for the risks associated with chiropractic manipulation of the neck,” he wrote.

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