Chelation as 'junk science'

Copyright 1998 Associated Press
September 14, 1998

The Wyoming Board of Medicine should sanction a Gillette physician whose reliance on "junk science" led her to misdiagnose patients, according to board attorney Don Riske.

But the Sheridan attorney representing Dr. Rebecca Painter said his client is someone who genuinely cares about her patients and does not merely treat their symptoms.

"She's learning things that may be on the cutting edge," said Tom Toner. "She's not a bad doctor, but the kind of doctor everybody should have."

About 50 supporters - including patients and doctors - defended Painter and her use of alternative medicine during a three-day hearing that ended Saturday.

Board members heard testimony from Painter, two patients who filed complaints, a physician who says Painter's care fell below Wyoming's standard, and three other doctors who support Painter's practice of medicine.

"This case is about bad medicine, junk science and bad choices made by a medical doctor that should be sanctioned by the board," said Riske, who asked the board to suspend, restrict or revoke Painter's license, impose a civil fine and charge for the cost of the hearing.

Painter, who has practiced medicine in Gillette since 1987, uses an alternative form of medicine called chelation therapy on some patients.

It involves intravenously infusing ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid to remove "undesirable" metals from the body.

However, the patients that filed the complaints - Hertha Steckelberg and Tom Pickett - were not being treated with chelation therapy.

Steckelberg, who Painter treated five times between March 6, 1997, and April 19, 1997, filed complaints with the board alleging malpractice and negligence.

Dr. William Odell supervises endocrinologists at the University of Utah and holds medical licenses in Utah and Wyoming. He testified that Painter's diagnosis and treatment of Steckelberg "weren't fully consistent with adequate medical care."

He also stated Painter misdiagnosed Steckelberg.

Painter's attorney told the board Steckelberg had obtained medication from another doctor at the time she was taking antibiotics prescribed by Painter.

Toner claims Steckelberg never informed either doctor about the different medications she was taking.

He also discussed allegations filed by Pickett, a patient of Painter's for eight years who claims he was misdiagnosed.

Two days after Pickett filed the complaint, he went to another doctor who prescribed the same treatment Painter had been giving him for a thyroid condition, Toner said.

Toner also described Pickett as a man who would write strange poetry and long letters about how he was being held hostage to celestial bodies and worried that his medication might make him a Mormon.

Board members said they expected to render a decision on Painter's alleged unprofessional conduct within 70 days.

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