MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

case report

The NZZ recently published a long and horrific report about a natural health clinic and its doctors. Here is a  version translated and shortened by me; perhaps it makes a few people think twice before they waste their money and risk their health:

It is a narrow mountain road that they are racing down on this spring evening. Over the green Appenzell hills, towards Herisau hospital. Kathrin Pfister* is fighting for her life in the car. At the wheel is Thomas Rau, internationally renowned practitioner of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) and director of his own luxury clinic, the Biomed Centre Sonnenberg. Three days later, Kathrin Pfister is dead. The most likely finding according to the experts: Pfister was injected with a drug that was not authorised in Switzerland at the time, the side effects of which killed her.

Pfister is not the only woman to have lost her life following treatment at the Sonnenberg. Other experts accuse Rau of serious breaches of duty that led to the death of a patient. Rau and another doctor are thus being investigated for involuntary manslaughter.

The events remained hidden from the public for over two years. It’s not just about one doctor, not just about one clinic. The events are politically explosive for Appenzell Ausserrhoden. The canton is the centre of alternative medicine in Switzerland. SCAM doctors are an important economic factor in Ausserrhoden. Wealthy people from all over the world fly here for therapies that most conventional doctors just shake their heads at. Treatments lasting several weeks with a hotel stay cost five-figure sums.

The 73-year-old Dr Rau is the star among Swiss alternative medicine practitioners.He describes himself as the “Mozart of medicine”. The Biomed Centre Sonnenberg is “Mozart’s” last big project. The clinic has a hotel and gluten-free vegan restaurant from the Tibits chain. Even the feather pillows are replaced with bamboo ones. All for the “detox” that Rau praises.

Kathrin Pfister’s case began in mid-April 2021, just four months after the Sonnenberg centre opened. She is actually healthy and comes to the clinic anyway; because of some digestive problems and headaches. The hospital records show that Pfister received infusions. Initially only those containing vitamin C and homeopathic remedies. Then one with artesunate, a preparation against malaria. And finally, on a Friday, Pfister was injected with a solution of alpha-lipoic acid into his bloodstream. The infusion is used in Germany for long-term diabetics with nerve damage. It was not authorised as a medicinal product in Switzerland at the time. According to the forensic experts, it was this substance that was “ultimately causally linked to the death”.

A few hours later, Pfister had severe abdominal cramps. Then pain throughout the body. The number of platelets in her blood drops dramatically. Anxiety sets in at the clinic. The intensive care doctors in Herisau and later at the cantonal hospital in St. Gallen can do nothing more. Pfister had a massive blood clotting disorder. Her liver and kidneys were no longer functioning.

Mary Anne Hawrylak meets Thomas Rau by chance at the clinic that weekend. She too is a patient, recently flown in from the USA. Hawrylak had massive side effects after infusions that Friday. “When I told him about it, he turned white as a sheet, like a ghost,” says Hawrylak. “Doctor Rau told me in horror that I had received the same infusions as ‘Kathrin’ and that he had to test my blood.” The tests showed that her blood platelet count had also dropped, says Hawrylak.

The forensic experts point to a central fact: Alpha lipoic acid can cause blood clotting disorders.  They come to the conclusion that this is “most likely a lethal side effect of a drug”. The use of drugs that are not authorised in Switzerland is legal if they are authorised in a country with a comparable procedure. However, there is no real reason to inject this medication into the bloodstream of healthy people. It was authorised in Germany for diabetes patients with nerve damage. So, Pfister did not have this authorisation.

Experts refer to such applications as “off-label use”.  Off-label treatments should only be carried out “on the basis of valid guidelines, generally recognised recommendations or scientific literature”. The guidelines also require that patients are given comprehensive information about off-label use. This counselling session should be documented in writing. None of this can be found in the clinic’s files. No written consent, no documented risk-benefit assessment, no reference to the risk of blood clotting disorders. The forensic experts state: “The scant documentation from the Sonnenberg Biomed Centre does not contain any corresponding information document.” The question arises as to “whether the medical treatment at the Sonnenberg Biomed Centre was carried out with the necessary medical care”.

Patient Hawrylak also says: “I was not told exactly what was in the infusions. I was never told that the medication was not authorised in Switzerland or that its use was off-label. I spoke to Dr Rau about what had happened to ‘Kathrin’ because I was worried about myself,” says Hawrylak. “He said to me: ‘I don’t think it was the infusions. I think it was the Covid vaccinations.” He only justified this with his “intuition”.

The Pfister case triggered an investigation by the public prosecutor’s office. But what hardly anyone knew at the time was that it was not the first questionable death at the clinic – not even the first in a month. Ruth Schmid*, a 77-year-old Swiss woman, had died just three weeks earlier. In this case, the forensic pathologists accused Rau: He had made mistakes that not even a medical student should have made, thus causing Schmid’s death.

Schmid was also in the clinic for a kind of cure. When she was about to leave, she began to tremble violently and had extreme stomach pains. She screamed “like an animal”, her partner said during the interrogation. Ultrasound examinations were carried out at the clinic and Rau gave Schmid painkillers, including morphine. According to the partner’s statement to the public prosecutor’s office, he asked Rau whether Schmid needed to be taken to hospital. Rau said no. Schmid stayed in the hotel room overnight. The next day – according to Rau, she had been feeling better since the previous evening – she travelled home. According to Rau’s confiscated notes, “she was to report closely” and return in four days. At home, Ruth Schmid fell into a coma-like state overnight. Admitted to Zurich University Hospital in an emergency, Schmid died there of cardiovascular failure due to septic shock.

The Zurich forensic pathologists performed an autopsy on Schmid’s body. Their findings: Schmid had suffered from intestinal paralysis. As a result, bacteria entered her body and poisoned her blood, leading to a heart attack. “From a forensic medical point of view, it is incomprehensible why the attending physician, Dr Thomas Rau, did not carry out appropriate diagnostics.” The irritation of the forensic experts is evident in almost every line. There had been several warning signs of intestinal paralysis. The forensic experts wrote: “This knowledge is taught in medical school and is considered basic knowledge in human medicine.” Rau’s behaviour was “a breach of the doctor’s duty of care”. With timely treatment, the prognosis for intestinal paralysis is excellent. The sad conclusion: Ruth Schmid did not have to die.

During questioning by the public prosecutor’s office, Rau denied any guilt. Schmid had left in “good condition”. There was no causality between what happened in the clinic and the death. The findings and conclusions of the Zurich forensic pathologists were wrong. Schmid did not have intestinal paralysis or septicaemia. He had been able to rule out intestinal paralysis because intestinal noises had been audible in the morning. The dose of morphine had been very small, so that it had had no effect. There were no indications of a serious condition. Rau testified that he had acted professionally, as would be expected of an internal medicine doctor.

In the Kathrin Pfister case, the doctors treating her also deny any culpability and question the forensic medical report. The doctor’s lawyer writes that the criminal investigation will show that there was no breach of the doctor’s duty to provide information. Alpha-lipoic acid was not responsible for the death. The expert opinion is not convincing in terms of method or content: “When analysed in depth, it contains no justification that the use of alpha-lipoic acid was in any way causal for the patient’s death.”

During the hearing on the Pfister case, Rau said that restricting the use of alpha-lipoic acid to diabetics was “a joke” and far too narrowly defined. He claimed that Pfister had polyneuropathy, a complex nerve disease. However, there is no mention of this in the files of Rau’s clinic.

The criminal investigation is ongoing in both cases. But did more happen on the Sonnenberg? A former hospital employee, who independently reported to the police, told the public prosecutor about other hair-raising incidents. During the interrogation, she testified that she had seen a young woman being carried out of the clinic extremely weak after an infusion. Days later, she had overheard parts of a telephone conversation between Rau and the patient’s angry husband which made it clear that the woman had died. The former employee also recounted a conversation with Rau’s wife, who is a trained nurse. She said that she had driven a patient to a hospital in Zurich in a private car with Rau because Rau was determined to take her to a particular specialist. The patient was so unwell that she was afraid the woman would die on the way. If this is true, Rau would have travelled past several hospitals with a seriously ill patient.

Hawrylak has one last memory of Appenzell etched in his memory. The departure. She was just leaving the clinic when Rau wished her good luck: “I could only say to him: I wish you good luck too, Doctor Rau. I think you’re really going to need it.”

*Names were altered.

A case report of a U-type sacral fracture, or spinopelvic dissociation, resulting from chiropractic manipulation has recently been published. It presents the case of a 74-year-old male patient who sustained a U-type sacral fracture after drop-table chiropractic manipulation.

The drop table chiropractic technique is claimed by chiropractors to involve lesser brute force for spinal manipulation than traditional chiropractic care. It involves low-velocity movement and less spinal manoeuvring on the specific area of injury. It is said to be particularly beneficial for adjusting the pelvis or sacroiliac joints. Furthermore, this is, according to chiros, one of the only methods that can adjust spondylolisthesis. In fact, the evidence that it is effective for anything other that boosting the chiros’ income is more than thin, while there is at least one tragic report that it can be lethal.

The recent case of a spinopelvic dissociation demonstrates that chiropractic manipulative therapy involving the commonly used drop-table can cause severe injury. The patient’s course was complicated by a delay in diagnosis and a prolonged hospital stay. Orthopaedic surgeons should have a high degree of suspicion for spinopelvic dissociation in the setting of bilateral sacral fractures. One year after injury, with conservative management, the patient returned to baseline function with mild residual neuropathy.

Spinopelvic dissociation is a rare injury associated with 2% to 3% of transverse sacral fractures and 3% of sacral fractures associated with pelvic ring injuries. When spinopelvic dissociation is expediently identified and treated appropriately, patient outcomes can be maximized, highlighting the importance of early diagnosis and treatment. Because of its rarity and complexity, there remains a paucity of high-level evidence-based guidance on treating this complex issue.  Most cases are caused by a fall from heights, followed by road accidents. Many patients show neurologic impairment at initial presentation, which often improves after surgery, the treatment of choice.

 

It has been reported that a man has been charged after the death of a woman attending a slapping therapy workshop run by Hongchi Xiao. Danielle Carr-Gomm died aged 71 at Cleeve House in Seend, Wiltshire, on 20 October 2016. Hongchi Xiao (60), an alternative healer who advocates a technique known as “slapping therapy”, living in Cloudbreak in California, has now been charged with manslaughter by gross negligence, after being extradited back to the UK.

Xiao promotes paida lajin therapy, also called slapping therapy, in which patients are slapped or slap themselves repeatedly, ostensibly to release toxins from the body. Patients often end up with bruises or bleeding. The technique has its roots in Chinese medicine, but critics say it has no scientific basis. Xiao, who is originally from China and runs the California-based Pailala Institute, has led paida lajin workshops around the world.

Carr-Gomm’s son Matthew said after his mother’s death that she had sought “alternative methods of treating and dealing with her diabetes” because she struggled to inject insulin due to a fear of needles. “I know she was desperate to try and cure herself of this disease,” he said. “She always maintained a healthy lifestyle and was adamant that nothing would stop her from living a full life.”

A warrant for Mr Xiao’s arrest was originally issued in October 2019. He has now been arrested after returning to the United Kingdom from Australia on an extradition warrant and was taken to Gablecross custody in Swindon where he was charged with manslaughter by gross negligence. Police said Xiao, 60, is due to appear in court in Salisbury, southwest England, on Friday.

The Pailala Institute claims to be  a non-profit organization incorporated in California. It is managed by a team of non-paying volunteers to promote and support the self-healing practice of Paida Lajin, led by Mr. HongChi Xiao. Their mission is to “transform our world into a healthier place, by enabling every one of us to awaken our self-healing power, we were born with, to heal ourselves, reducing medical cost and its related potential side effects.”

The institute also claims that “based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, the practice of PaidaLajin helps you to relieve from chronic pain, hypertension or diabetes, without equipment or medication. It can quickly improve your circulation and let your body heal itself. PaidaLajin has facilitated the healing of over 210 different illnesses worldwide. Join millions of practitioners in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, Germany, Indonesia, India, South Africa, Australia, etc. Just Google and following their witnesses.”

It goes almost without saying that the evidence for slapping therapy’s effectiveness is non-existent.

I was alerted to this message on ‘reddit’:

I went in to a chiropractor for a sports injury which was completely unrelated to my neck (wrist). While I was there, the chiropractor insisted on also doing a neck adjustment. To make a very long story short, this adjustment caused a vertebral artery dissection. The injury has left me with lifelong symptoms that I won’t get into here.>Because of tort reform law in Texas, and the $250k cap, I had a very difficult time finding any attorney to represent me even though there’s a mountain of evidence in my favor. My time to file a lawsuit has almost run out (statute of limitations).

Out of principle I want to hold this person accountable. How would I go about at least filing my lawsuit so that I get in within the statute of limitations which is very quickly approaching?

My thought is if I do sue this person within the two year timeframe then I can either self represent, have the option of withdrawing my case, or maybe in the meantime find an attorney to represent me for if/when we go to trial.

Any other advice or things that I should be considering? What would you do?

Thank you

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If anyone can help this person, please do so. I have acted as an expert witness in several such cases and would be happy to do so also in this instance.

Chiropractors will, of course, say that this message is not a proper case report and cannot therefore count as evidence against the safety of chiropractic. I agree that it does not in itself amount to compelling evidence. But I would like to remind the chiros that it is up to them to establish a proper surveillance system for such tragic events which seem to occur far more often than they want us to believe (as discussed ad nauseam on this blog).

The case of a 2.5-year-old boy who accidentally ingested a 25% sodium chlorite solution was reported. The solution had been recommended to the grandfather as a “bowel cure” by a naturopath. Although the boy tried to spit the solution out again, he was unable to do so or only partially succeeded. Vomiting and diarrhoea soon set in and the child’s condition deteriorated rapidly.

On admission to hospital, a greyish-pale skin colour, lip cyanosis and an oxygen saturation of 67% were already apparent. The child had to be intubated. Blood gas analysis revealed marked methaemoglobinaemia, which was treated with methylene blue and ascorbic acid. Erythrocyte concentrates were also transfused due to haemolytic anaemia. In the oesophagogastroduodenoscopy the next day, the gastric mucosa was completely covered with bloody erosions. Later, aspiration pneumonia was suspected and antibiotics with piperacillin and tazobactam i.v. were administered for five days. After clinical restitution, the child was discharged.

The author added the following comment:

Several health authorities (including in the USA, Switzerland, Canada and the UK) have issued warnings about MMS in recent years and in some cases have also taken specific measures to protect consumers. In July 2012, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) strongly advised against the consumption and use of MMS.

In February 2015, the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) classified two MMS products as requiring authorisation. These were considered to be so-called presentation drugs because the manufacturer made clear healing promises and stated medicinal purposes. Furthermore, precise dosage information and references to the possibility of severe side effects such as diarrhoea and nausea were given, as well as references to the book “The Breakthrough” by Jim Humble, in which the use and effectiveness of MMS is described for malaria and cancer, for example. This means that the products would have to be authorised as medicinal products and could then only be placed on the market if the pharmaceutical company had proven their efficacy, quality and safety.

In addition, the BfArM categorised both products as questionable medicinal products in accordance with Section 5 of the German Medicinal Products Act because their use is associated with harmful effects that go beyond an acceptable level.

On this blog, we have repeatedly discussed the MMS, e.g.:

I urge everyone who might be tempted to try MMS to think again.

It has just been reported that the Düsseldorf Regional Court has dismissed several lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers for alleged coronavirus vaccine damage as unfounded.

Three women and one man had filed a lawsuit against manufacturers of mRNA vaccines. They claimed to have suffered significant impairment and damage to their health as a result of the coronavirus vaccines. They claimed to have suffered from states of exhaustion, concentration disorders, damage to the immune system, respiratory and lung problems, autoimmune reactions and symptoms of myocarditis. The plaintiffs demanded compensation for pain and suffering of up to 250,000 euros and damages.

The court rejected the claims. The requirements for a claim under the German Medicinal Products Act were not met, the court stated. The plaintiffs had not sufficiently proven a “negative risk-benefit balance” of the vaccine. On the contrary, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had determined a positive balance for the vaccine during the authorisation process.

Furthermore, the plaintiffs had not provided sufficient evidence that the manufacturer had provided incorrect information regarding the vaccine, the court continued. On the contrary, it follows from the official authorisation by the EMA that the manufacturer’s statements “are not objectionable in terms of content”. The judgements are not yet legally binding.

________________________

I have little doubt that antivazers will now claim that the court is in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry. To give you a flavour of their mindset, here are examples of recent tweets (Xs) that I picked up on the subject (my translations):

  • You stupid arseholes and stupid rabble-rousers, and who is liable for the coronavirus vaccination damage and for the German arms factories in Ukraine?
  • More and more vaccines, no long-term studies…not with me!
    I make decisions about my body and you can see from the coronavirus vaccine damage that I have done everything right. Even if our government wants us to believe that there are none and pays the lawyers for Biontech.
  • Corona vaccination damage, disinformation, corona vaccination no protection, disinformation, that’s how it works with the anti-democrats.
  • The Corona vaccine damage is also still being covered up. This political cesspit also stinks and needs to be emptied as quickly as possible.
  • When the force-financed government TV reports on “vaccine damage”, more and more of the people’s traitors must be getting sick to their stomachs.
  • For the “fact checkers”, facts are opinions – often even contradicting government statistics, e.g. in the case of coronavirus vaccinations – that are considered correct by the establishment. Necessary open discussions are not wanted by them.

“Acute Fulminant Hepatic Failure in 23-Year-Old Female Taking Homeopathic Remedy” is not a title we see often on a scientific paper. Naturally, it attrackted my interest. In the paper, a US team presented a case of a 23-year-old otherwise healthy woman with body mass index 32.3 and a history of polycystic ovarian syndrome who presented with acute liver failure (ALF) ultimately requiring orthotopic liver transplantation. The patient was originally from India where she reported taking homeopathic medications for various indications for several years without known toxicity. She had no history of alcohol, tobacco, or other drug use. At the time of her presentation, she was living and working in the US and reported she was unable to refill her homeopathic product with the primary ingredient of eggshells from India. She was off of all medications and supplements with the exception of Berberis vulgaris for approximately 1 month before obtaining a similarly named homeopathic product with the primary ingredient of eggshells from Amazon. She reported originally taking 4 pills/d for 10 days, and then increased to 10 pills/d for 10 days as she was unsure of the appropriate dose.

She subsequently developed orange discoloration of her urine and nausea, reportedly without any preceding muscle-related effects or symptoms, and she discontinued all of her medications/supplements. Approximately 2 weeks later, she presented to the emergency department for nausea and malaise, where a blood test revealed abnormal liver enzymes. Mononucleosis screen and hepatitis panel were negative. She had no evidence of hepatic encephalopathy at that time. Ultrasound of the abdomen was notable for hypoechoic liver parenchyma only.

She was discharged home with gastroenterology telehealth follow-up. She was seen 1 week later and reported worsening nausea, vomiting, anorexia, jaundice, and fatigue. She presented to a local emergency department where she received intravenous vitamin K and underwent further laboratory evaluation. She was transferred to another hospital for higher level of care and admitted with acute liver injury. There she received intravenous N-acetylcysteine per institutional protocol, ursodiol, albumin, vitamin K, and fresh frozen plasma transfusions given for coagulopathy. Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography was performed and demonstrated no evidence of biliary obstruction or chronic liver disease (no ascites, contour nodularity, mass, or lymphadenopathy), though liver size noted to be small (11.5 cm in span). At 21 to 28 days after the onset of symptoms, her lab results were still highly abnormal and her mental status deteriorated. She was intubated for airway protection given severe encephalopathy, “cooling protocols” were initiated, and she was transferred again to a higher level of care at a center for emergent liver transplant evaluation. She was evaluated and listed as status 1A for acute liver failure. Her clinical status continued to decline and her labs continued to worsen.

An appropriate organ became available 28 hours after listing. At the time of her surgery, her explanted liver was noted to have massive parenchymal loss with hemorrhage, and pathology confirmed near complete collapse of the organ’s framework with only small foci of steatotic hepatocytes remaining. After her initial operation, her hospital course was complicated by coagulopathy, hypotension, leukocytosis, kidney failure requiring temporary dialysis, and multiple operations for completion of biliary anastomoses and delayed complex abdominal wall closure with mesh given large donor size. She was discharged from the hospital 2 weeks after transplant and her outpatient course continues to go well over 1 year after liver transplantation.

The product in this case has not been previously reported to be toxic. Its primary ingredient is calcium from “toasted eggshells,” which is also not generally known to cause liver failure or disease. However, the authors point out that it is not uncommon for supplements such as this one to contain other potentially toxic agents that are not specifically listed on the bottles’ label. For example, toxic metals including lead, mercury, and arsenic have reportedly been discovered in many (almost 20%) naturopathic medicines manufactured in India, particularly those sold by US websites. As such, the authors hypothesize that this patient’s ALF was likely caused by a contaminant (also consumed in higher quantities than intended) in her homeopathic product with the primary ingredient of eggshells.

The authors of this paper repeatedly state that the product was a homeopathic remedy; however, on other occasions they claim that it was a herbal supplement. In their Figure 1, they name the product as ‘OVA TOSTA’; on Amazon USA, I did indeed find a remedy by that name. Sadly, I was unable to obtain any information about its exact ingredients or composition.

Regardless whether the product was herbal or homeopathic, this case report is a poignant reminder that, in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) many dangerous remedies are offered for sale. Therefore, it is advisible to be cautious and insist on sound information about the quality, safety, and efficacy before trying any such therapy.

We have often discussed cupping on this blog, e.g.:

Yes, generally speaking I have been critical about cupping – not because I don’t like it (I even used the treatment as a young clinician many years ago) but because the evidence tells me to. I was glad to see that the authors of a recent article entitled “Utility of Cupping Therapy in Substance Use Disorder: A Novel Approach or a Bizarre Treatment?” offer even more outspoken words about the therapy. Here are their conclusions:

Established treatment modalities for substance use disorder and its withdrawal symptoms include pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy, but their utilization by the general population remains unsatisfactory. Taboos regarding mental health services and concerns about confidentiality are massive obstacles for patients seeking psychiatric help, and alternative forms of medicine may seem more approachable, even with the associated risks. As displayed in this case, cupping therapy is a traditional therapy with no role in treating polyaddiction and withdrawal symptoms, but it unnecessarily exposes individuals to really uncomfortable and often concealed complications such as bruising, and skin and blood infections, especially when carried out by untrained, incompetent individuals. While one can explore these options in addition to seeking professional mental health care, it is imperative to spread awareness about the roles, scientific soundness, and adverse effects of these alternative health practices. The health promotion and education sectors need reforms to educate the general population, especially the rural population in India, about the dangers of iatrogenesis caused by non-evidence-backed treatments. There needs to be an extensive advertisement of only the most effective and scientific treatment options provided by medical professionals, and the risks of overlooking them in favor of traditional cures propagated by unqualified individuals. With all the scientific advancements in the 21st century ranging from artificial intelligence in healthcare, and robotic surgeries, to extensive clinical trials for novel anti-cancer drugs, we cannot allow the propagation of ancient, scientifically unsound techniques that may cause more harm than benefit to patients.

Why, I am sure you ask yourself, are they so critical? The reason lies in the case they report in the same paper:

A 30-year-old man presented to the psychiatric outpatient department with complaints of nervousness, anxiety, a sense of impending doom, irritability, anger outbursts, headache, and reduced sleep and appetite for the last five days. The patient had a history of daily consumption of 5-10 mg of alprazolam tablets, 200-250 mg of codeine syrup, and about five packets of chewable tobacco over the last seven years; this was a pattern of polyaddiction to a benzodiazepine, opiate, and nicotine. The patient had no history of fever, confusion, or hallucinations. On eliciting the past history, the patient revealed that he went to an alternative medicine practitioner after his family persuaded him to seek help for his substance use disorder. After ceasing the consumption of all three substances for three days, he started developing the symptoms with which he presented to our hospital. He was hesitant to talk about his substance use disorder to medical professionals and concerned about confidentiality, and, hence, went to an alternative medicine practitioner whom he deemed approachable. There he was given wet cupping therapy on the head for four days, which involved the use of rubber pumps to create a suction inside the cups placed on his head. After three to five minutes, the cups were removed and small incisions were made on the cupping sites, following which a second suction caused the oozing out of blood from the incision sites on the scalp (Figure 1). But, this did not improve his symptoms, and hence, he stopped going there two days before coming to our tertiary care hospital.

Figure 1: Wet cupping therapy on the head with blood oozing from incision sites<

Figure 1: Wet cupping therapy on the head with blood oozing from incision sites<

On examination, the patient had a pulse rate of 76 beats per minute, blood pressure of 128/78 mm Hg, and respiratory rate of 22 per minute. He was well-oriented to time, place, and person. Systemic examination of the cardiovascular system was unremarkable. He denied any other substance use. The skin over his head had distinct cupping marks but no signs of infection or active bleeding, which are some common complications after cupping therapy (Figure 2). On assessment, the patient had a Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS) score of 13 and a Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment (CIWA) scale score of 26.

Figure 2: Cupping marks on the head`

Figure 2: Cupping marks on the head

Later, the patient was admitted to the psychiatric ward to manage the withdrawal symptoms, where we initiated pharmacotherapy. Tablet diazepam (20 mg/day), sodium valproate (800 mg/day), tramadol (200 mg/day), thiamine (300 mg/day), paracetamol (500 mg/day) and intravenous fluids were given to the patient. We counseled the patient regarding substance abuse, its harmful effects, and de-addiction. The patient’s symptoms started to improve, and we continued the treatment for four days and discharged him with a COWS score of 4 and a CIWA score of 2. We intended to reassess him after 14 days, but we lost him to follow-up.

Suzanne Somers, born Suzanne Marie Mahoney on October 16, 1946 in San Bruno, California, was an American actress, author and businesswoman.  Somers has published several best-selling self-help books, such as I’m Too Young for This! and The Natural Hormone Solution to Enjoy Menopause. In 2001, it was reported that she had breast cancer and was opting for so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) to treat it, In particular, she used Iscador, a preparation of mistletoe that we have discissed many times before on this blog, e.g.:

In an interview with Larry King in 2001, Somers revealed that she had been receiving treatment for a year. She also explained that she refused to go through with chemotherapy and instead used SCAM. “I decided to find alternative things to do,” she continued. “Because I have done so much work in my books about hormones, and that hormonal balance is why people gain or lose weight, and, it was my belief that a balanced environment of hormones prevents disease. And the first thing they said to me, we are taking of off all hormones. I said no, I’m going to continue taking my hormones, which is the first thing against the common course…”

Recently, it was reported that Somers has died of cancer aged 76. Earlier this year, Somers said they had “used the best alternative and conventional treatments to combat it [her cancer].” But now, a source close to the star shares that many around her didn’t like it. Somers’ friends tried to convince her to ditch SCAM in favor of chemotherapy. “She was advised by several people to consider the more conventional approach, but she did not listen,” a source close to Somers told the Daily Mail. The source continued, “She has always rejected chemo, so it wasn’t even an option. Her friends and loved ones urged her to reconsider so many times during her cancer battles and at the end.” A statement read. “Her family was gathered to celebrate her 77th birthday on October 16th. Instead, they will celebrate her extraordinary life, and want to thank her millions of fans and followers who loved her dearly.”

Perhaps this sad case is an apt occasion for rephrasing the warning that I posted only a few days ago:

be very cautious about using SCAMs for cancer and seek professional advice, preferably NOT from a SCAM provider.

 

It has been reported that a cancer patient died of multiple organ failure after he took a herbalist’s remedy that included mistletoe. Retired electrician Haydn Owen Jones had been receiving a third course of treatment for his multiple myeloma when he turned to a herbalist. Alongside two chemotherapy drugs and a steroid, Jones started using a remedy which included mistletoe, yarrow, lily of the valley, cat’s claw, echinacea, and corn silk. Days later he fell ill with a fever, swelling and a rash. He was treated for sepsis but never recovered as his liver function deteriorated. Coroner concluded that it was probable the mix of cancer drugs and the alternative therapy proved deadly to him.

Retired electrician Haydn Owen Jones had been receiving a third course of treatment for bone marrow cancer when he turned to a herbalist

Mistletoe contains Phoratoxin and Viscotoxin – both of which are poisonous when ingested. While a more severe reaction is caused from eating the berries than the leaves, possible symptoms can include nausea, heart problems and fever.

_____________________

As with all tragic cases of this nature, it is difficult or even impossible to establish what caused the death. Was the herbal remedy involved at all? If so, it could be the toxicity of one or more of its ingredients, interactions between them, interactions with prescribed drugs, or contaminations/adulterations of the remedy. If there is a lesson at all to learn from this case, it is, I think, this: be very cautious about using herbal remedies, particularly when combined with other medicines, and seek professional advice, preferably NOT from a herbalist.

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