Retired Man Dies After A Trip To The Chiropractor
A retired man from York died suddenly after a chiropractor performed a procedure that ‘snapped’ his spine ‘like a rigid stick’.
John Lawler was 79 when he started feeling pain in his leg. Though it wasn’t a chronic pain – John and his wife Joan were keen walkers and regularly exercised – his GP suggested a course of physiotherapy would help.
However, not wanting to wait too long for an NHS or private physio appointment, John and Joan made an appointment with local chiropractor Arleen Scholten. Scholten was listed as ‘Dr Scholten’ on the chiropractor’s website, despite reportedly having no medical qualifications.
The couple’s daughter Clare told MailOnline: ‘I don’t think Mum actually knew there was a difference between a physio and a chiropractor. I wouldn’t have been that aware of the differences either. I was only vaguely aware that Dad was going for a spot of physio.’
While their son David said: ‘You see certificates on the wall and you think, “These are people who know what they are doing.” You put yourself into their hands.’
Tragically, however, John’s treatment for an achy leg ended in an abrupt and shocking way.
Scholten performed a procedure known as a ‘drop table’ manipulation, which involves giving the patient a sudden push while simultaneously dropping the table they’re lying on by 2cm.
At an inquest into the incident this week, it was revealed John’s spine ‘snapped like a rigid stick’ as a result of the procedure. Unknown at the time, the pensioner was living with a calcifying condition, fairly common in old age, which makes the spine more rigid.
According to expert testimony, the treatments performed by the chiropractor on a back with such a condition would have been like ‘bending a spoon backwards and forwards’ until it broke.
Son David said:
Maybe this treatment would have worked wonders for a 30-year-old rugby player. But it should never have been attempted on my dad. He thought he was in safe hands and he was not.
John’s wife Joan was at his side during the appointment and witnessed the incident. John reportedly yelled out in pain and said he could not move his arms or legs. Scholten, who said she ‘panicked’, then apparently tried to turn John over and found him unresponsive. She attempted to resuscitate him, but reportedly made the situation worse.
As David said:
When she called an ambulance, she said she thought Dad had had a stroke, but to Mum she indicated that maybe he hadn’t, because his face was symmetrical.
We now know that Dad would had survived, had she done the thing everyone knows you should do when someone has had a spinal injury: keep them stable. Instead, she moved him.
Because of Scholten’s information, the paramedics believed they were dealing with a stroke victim, not someone with a life-threatening spinal injury. As David said: ‘If they had known, they would have treated him like they would someone with a sports injury. Dad would have had a chance.’
John was rushed to hospital but tragically died the following day from his injuries.
Two years on from the tragic incident, John’s family had hoped the coroner would record a verdict of unlawful killing. Instead, coroner Jonathan Heath concluded John had suffered spinal injuries as a result of the treatment, and died from ‘respiratory depression’.
However, the coroner said he would urge the chiropractic regulatory authorities to consider first aid training for chiropractors, as well as calling on the General Chiropractic Council (GCC) to introduce pre-treatment imaging, such as X-rays or scans.
We’ve since discovered that some chiropractors won’t treat patients of Dad’s age, or certainly not without doing scans first. He had a history of degenerative disease, too. He’d had some rods inserted in his lower back in 2009. He should not have been treated, quite simply.
Following the incident, Arleen Scholten was arrested. However, no findings of any wrongdoings were brought against her and no charges were made against the chiropractor – she is still working in the profession.
Scholten has since completed a first aid course, and made it clear on her website she is not a medical doctor, but has a Doctor of Chiropractic degree.
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