VOCA Victims of Chiropractic Abuse
Advocates seeking state law requiring a warning prior to neck manipulation
By Judy Benson
Publication: The Day
Published 01/06/2010 12:00 AM
Chiropractors argue no links to strokes have been proved

Hartford - Stroke victims and their families say all they want is for patients to have more information about the possible risks of a chiropractic procedure called cervical spinal manipulation.

"It doesn't seem like we're asking for much - just disclosure," said Sean Madden of New London, son-in-law of Linda Solsbury, a former Lawrence & Memorial Hospital nurse who suffered a stroke in 1985 at age 40 after having the procedure, which involves twisting of the neck vertebrae to relieve pain.

Solsbury, who helped found the Chiropractic Stroke Awareness Group, died three and a half years ago, but her family has stayed active in advocating that patients be told of the risks ahead of time and to watch for stroke symptoms afterward so they can get immediate medical care if necessary.

"You'd just hate to see it happen again," Madden said Tuesday.

Madden represents one side in a contentious proposal being considered by a state Department of Public Health panel over whether chiropractors should be mandated to warn patients that the neck procedure may carry a risk of a rare kind of stroke. The first day of a two-day public hearing on the proposal took place Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building before the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners, which is expected to make a decision in about three months.

Dozens of chiropractors from around the state attended the hearing to oppose the proposal, which is also opposed by state, national and international chiropractic groups. They argue that the proposal, which would make Connecticut the first state with such a mandate, would exaggerate what may be merely coincidence or the result of a patient's pre-existing condition into an established cause-and-effect relationship between neck manipulation and stroke. They say it would single their profession out unfairly.

"There's never been any good scientific evidence showing a cause-and-effect relationship," said Dr. William Lauretti, testifying for the Connecticut Chiropractic Association before the board. "There's an association, much like driving up to a house on fire and seeing the fire truck doesn't mean the fire truck caused the fire."

Lauretti, who is also a spokesman for the American Chiropractic Association and faculty member at New York Chiropractic College, said chiropractors should decide on a "case-by-case" basis which patients should be warned. Existing state laws requiring that patients give informed consent before receiving treatment, he said, are sufficient to ensure patient safety without the addition of specific language related to chiropractic procedures and stroke.

"It would be very limiting, having a mandate like that, because it can't keep up (with any new evidence that may emerge). Requiring it puts the onus on our profession to give people the impression that we're harming them, and that would not be a good thing at all," Lauretti said.

Groups at the hearing that are seeking the mandate include the Chiropractic Stroke Awareness Group, Victims of Chiropractic Abuse and the Campaign for Science-Based Healthcare. Much of the day Tuesday was taken up with procedural arguments between the attorney for the chiropractic groups and the attorneys representing stroke victims, leaving time only for testimony by Lauretti and one other witness for the chiropractors.

Among those waiting to testify during the continuation of the hearing today is Michael McCormick of Ridgefield, whose wife died in 2006 of a stroke at age 32 less than a day after having a neck-manipulation procedure at a chiropractor's office. She had gone there seeking treatment for headaches, he said.

"We were not told of any risks of side effects," said McCormick, adding that his wife was the mother of three young children. Her death certificate, he said, states that she died of a stroke caused by the procedure.

Also planning to testify today is Christa Heck of Westchester, N.Y., who suffered a stroke six years ago at age 39 after having the neck manipulation. While she has recovered her speech and other abilities, she said, she has not yet regained some cognitive function. She now runs a support group for survivors of strokes associated with chiropractic manipulation.

The stroke-victim groups believe the neck manipulation procedure can, in rare cases, damage two major arteries found at the back of the neck leading to the brain and cause stroke. Among those convinced that this can occur is David MacDonald of Windsor Locks, who had a stroke 10 years ago at age 53 and was among those waiting to testify. He is now wheelchair-bound and speaks with difficulty.

Just before his stroke, MacDonald said, he had visited a chiropractor for a neck-manipulation procedure.

"She clicked it twice," he said, grasping and twisting his head to demonstrate. "Then she did it again the next day."

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