Is "chiropractic stroke" to blame?
Updated: Tuesday, 24 Nov 2009, 9:10 AM EST
Published : Monday, 23 Nov 2009, 9:25 PM EST
MYFOXNY.COM - A Connecticut mother of three suddenly dies after a spinal manipulation, and now her husband wants the public to be aware of her story. Michael McCormick sometimes fights back tears when he remembers his wife Kim McCormick. Kim was only 32 years old and the mother of three young children when she passed away. "She was phenomenal, she was caring, sweet, funny. She was the glue. She kept everyone together," says McCormick who spoke exclusively to Fox 5 News reporter, Dr. Sapna Parikh. He says his wife Kim wanted nothing more than to be a stay at home mom for their 3 children. But all that ended one day in July of 2006 when Michael says, his otherwise healthy wife just wasn't feeling well, "Kim had been experiencing some headaches. So she consulted with a chiropractor."
According to McCormick , the chiropractor performed a cervical spine manipulation to treat her pain. Soon after, McCormick says his wife lost consciousness, "She was considered clinically brain dead," he adds, "there was no function and she was on life support, and that was keeping her alive." Only 12 hours later Kim was gone.
Kim's official death certificate obtained by Fox 5 News, reveals she died of a "vertebral artery dissection following cervical spine manipulation." That means after a manipulation, somehow the artery at the base of Kim's neck was torn, creating a blood clot that cut off blood flow to her brain and caused a stroke.
McCormick says, had his wife known there was any risk to this type of procedure she might still be alive today, "It's something that, had we had known these were potential consequences, probably wouldn't have done. It wasn't something she needed to have done."
Cervical spine manipulation is a twisting of the neck that is performed by chiropractors to relieve pain, muscle tension and tightness along the spine. It's considered a routine treatment.
Dr. Keith Siller, a neurologist and Medical Director of the NYU Comprehensive Stroke Care Center in Manhattan explains the vertebral artery is the main blood supply to the back of the brain. In his opinion the risk of a so-called "chiropractic stroke" exists, but it's extremely small.
"There are millions of people who get adjustments by chiropractors all the time and if this were such a high risk maneuver, I think we'd be seeing a huge number of patients coming in with this and we don't." says Dr. Siller.
No reliable data exists to determine what the risk truly is, but the presidents of two "chiropractic stroke"-awareness advocacy groups, The Chiropractic Stroke Awareness Group and Victims of Irresponsible and Chiropractic Education and Standards (VOICES), claim that hundreds of cases have been reported to them over the last 3 to 5 years.
New York City based chiropractor, Dr. Michael Minardo is a member of the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) and says he's been performing spinal manipulations for 23 years and he has never seen this type of injury. Dr. Minardo also points to a Canadian study where researchers found there to be no increased risk of stroke among patients who visited a chiropractor compared to those who visited a primary care doctor.
Dr. Minardo believes these types of strokes should not be blamed on a chiropractic adjustment because, "It's not the chiropractic intervention that causes the stroke, it's the fact that these strokes were happening anyway."
When asked by Fox 5 News reporter Dr. Sapna Parikh, "Is it possible that a spinal manipulation could damage one of these arteries?"
Dr. Minardo responded, "With the forces being 1/9th that is necessary to damage a vertebral artery, it would be virtually impossible, with a competently produced spinal manipulation, to cause that kind of damage."
However neurologist, Dr. Keith Siller, M.D. says, "I don't think I agree with that... I think we're not sure exactly how much force is needed to create this situation."
Dr. William Lauretti, D.C. the Spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association issued the following statement:
"According to the American Chiropractic Association the best scientific evidence to date shows that stroke is not a risk of cervical spine manipulation. Any incident where a stroke follows a manipulation is coincidental."
Despite the ACA's position, Michael McCormick wants people to know what happened to his wife Kim after she received a chiropractic adjustment, he even testified about it before lawmakers in Connecticut back in February. McCormick is currently working to get legislation passed in Connecticut requiring chiropractors to inform patients of the risks and have them sign off on it before they undergo any treatment.
"I'm not advocating against chiropracty, but if people are going to go," says McCormick, "Just to make them aware that, that this is a possibility."
And this issue will be addressed again on January 5 and 6, 2010. The Connecticut State Board of Chiropractic Examiners will hold a hearing to determine if chiropractors should be required to inform patients of the risk of stroke before performing a manipulation.
In the meantime, "chiropractic stroke"-awareness groups hope one day new legislation will force chiropractors to warn patients of risks in advance of a spinal manipulation, and also make it a requirement for patients to receive a discharge summary explaining the signs and symptoms of a stroke that they should watch out for after the spinal manipulation is complete.