York & North Yorkshire

Chiropractor tells inquest patient's death was 'rare and unusual'

John Lawler Image copyright Lawler family
Image caption John Lawler died following treatment at the Chiropractic 1st clinic in York

A chiropractor whose patient's neck broke during treatment has told an inquest she had "never experienced anything" like it.

Arleen Scholten was treating 80-year-old John Lawler at Chiropractic 1st in York in August 2017 when he became unresponsive.

His family were later told in hospital his neck was fractured. He died the next day.

A criminal investigation into his death ruled out any charges.

Giving evidence on the second day of the inquest, Mrs Scholten, said she had trained in Canada and had been practising for 16 years and moved to the UK in 2005.

'Gentle manipulation'

Mr Lawler had come to her at the end of July for an initial assessment complaining of aches in his legs.

She was told Mr Lawler had back surgery a decade ago for spinal stenosis and had metal rods inserted in his lower back.

Mrs Scholten said despite this she believed she could relieve some of his pain by what she described as "gentle manipulation".

"I did think I could help. I would never start care unless I thought I could help," she said.

Mrs Scholten said treatment involved a hand-held activator, which applies a light pressure to the patient, and dropping a section of the treatment table to "stretch" the joint tissues.

On 11 August she began treatment in the usual way.

"I used a drop and he let out a groan and said 'my arms don't feel right'.

"I waited a couple of seconds and asked him if he was okay and he said again 'my arms don't feel right'."

She said it was something she had never experienced in her 16 years of adjusting people.

Mr Lawler's widow told the inquest on Monday he had shouted "you are hurting me" at this point, however Mrs Scholten said she did not hear him say that.

Mrs Scholten said she managed to get him to a chair before asking her receptionist to call an ambulance.

She told paramedics she had been applying "gentle manipulation" but did not tell them about using the drop treatment.

She said she was in a "complete and utter state of panic" and could not explain why she had not mentioned that element of treatment.

'Wanted to help'

For the family, Mr Richard Copnall, said given the rods in his lower back he was surely not a "suitable" patient for chiropractic treatment.

Mrs Scholten said she had treated other patients who had had back surgery before.

"I felt I could help him, I wanted to help him," she said.

She said what happened on the 11 August was "rare and unusual".

"I've never experienced anything like this."

The inquest continues.

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