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Chiropractor ‘broke patient’s neck’ during treatment for sore leg

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John Lawler, 80, died a day after visiting Arleen Scholten at her Chiropractic 1st clinic in York (Picture: SWNS)
John Lawler, 80, died a day after visiting Arleen Scholten at her Chiropractic 1st clinic in York (Picture: SWNS)

An elderly man died a day after visiting a chiropractor when his neck broke during treatment for a sore leg, an inquest heard.

John Lawler, 80, screamed out in pain minutes into his appointment with Arleen Scholten, 40, and told her: ‘You’re hurting me, I can’t feel my arms.’

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The inquest was told mum-of-three Mrs Scholten was falsely advertising herself as ‘Dr’ after earning a Doctor of Chiropractic degree in Canada. But under British rules, she should have been calling herself ‘Mrs’.

Mr Lawler’s wife Joan, 83, went along to the private Chiropractic 1st clinic in York with her husband for the leg treatment.

His inquest heard the treatment table was dropped and raised ‘without warning’ which had been intended to manipulate his spine but left the former Barclays bank manager ‘like a rag doll’.

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Mr Lawler, a father of three, was left paralysed with a broken neck after the appointment in August 2017.

John Lawler died after going to chiropractor Dr Arleen Scholten
Arleen Scholten told the inquest she first thought her patient had suffered a stroke

Since his death, investigations have shown he had been suffering from ‘ossified longitudinal ligament’ adjacent to the spinal cord in his neck.

The ligament had fractured during treatment, leading to the rupture of a disc and injury to the spinal cord which caused his death, his inquest heard.

Mrs Scholten, of Tollerton, North Yorkshire, was initially arrested on suspicion of manslaughter but police dropped the case.

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She was visibly emotional while giving evidence on the second day of the inquest, saying she was in a ‘complete state of shock’ at the incident.

She said she first thought Mr Lawler had suffered a stroke and lifted him off the table into a chair, attempting to give him mouth-to-mouth resucitation.

Under cross-examination from Richard Copnall, lawyer for Mr Lawler’s family, she accepted that in hindsight it was dangerous to move him.

Mrs Sholten, who trained in Canada and had been practicing for 16 years, said: ‘I have treated thousands of people and had never experienced anything like this in the past.

‘I didn’t know what was going on. A stroke was the only thing that came to mind at that point.

‘His mouth started turning a bit blue. He started to lose consciousness. I started to give rescue breath. I believed it was helping because the colour started to come back.’

John Thomas Lawler, 80 who died following treatment at a chiropractor clinic. See Ross Parry story RPYCHIRO; A woman will face no criminal charges after an 80-year-old man died just hours after receiving treatment at a chiropractor clinic. John Lawler lost consciousness during a routine visit over lower backache at the clinic on Friday, August 11, last year. He was taken to York Hospital from the Chiropractic 1st clinic, then transferred to Leeds General Infirmary, but despite the efforts of doctors, he died the next day (12th). A 40-year-old woman was arrested by North Yorkshire Police on suspicion of manslaughter following John's death. On Tuesday, police confirmed they had completed an investigation into manslaughter by gross negligence in relation to the death of John. A spokeswoman for North Yorkshire Police said the investigation, which lasted almost a year, had concluded and no charges would be brought.
Mr Lawler lost consciousness during the routine visit and an MRI revealed he had suffered a broken neck (Picture: SWNS)

The inquest was told Mr Lawler initially visited the chiropractor in July 2017 complaining of aches in his legs.

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Mrs Sholten was told he had back surgery a decade earlier for spinal stenosis and had metal rods inserted in his lower back.

She said despite this she believed she could relieve some of his pain by what she described as ‘gentle manipulation’.

The treatment involved a hand-held activator, which applies light pressure to the patient and dropping a section of the treatment table to ‘stretch’ the joint tissues.

Of the incident on August 11, 2017, she said: ‘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 she managed to get him to a chair before asking her receptionist to call an ambulance.

Mr Copnall said, given the rods in his lower back, he was surely not a ‘suitable’ patient for chiropractic treatment.

But Mrs Scholten responded that she had treated other patients who had had back surgery before.

Mrs Lawler told the inquest her husband was taken to hospital before being transferred to the Leeds General Infirmary where an MRI revealed his broken neck.

She said she was told ‘bluntly’ her husband was a paraplegic and that he could undergo a 14-hour operation which would be traumatic, but he later ‘faded away’ and died.

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The inquest continues.

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