California Woman Poses as a Naturopath and Nearly Kills Patient

The FBI does not often get involved in malpractice cases. For Kathleen Ann Helms, a.k.a. Catherine Bright-Helms, however, they made an exception. 

Helms was arrested on Monday, August 13, 2012 in Carlsbad, California under charges of practicing medicine without a license, inflicting great bodily injury and grand theft. Helms operated BrightHouse Wellness, located in Encinitas, California and represented herself as a naturopathic physician. Under this guise, she diagnosed patients with Lyme disease and advised them to undergo treatment with dimethyl sulfide (DMSO), injections of animal cells and vitamins. One patient almost paid for this treatment with her life.

The Limitations of Naturopathic Medicine

Some swear by the naturopathic method; others call it quackery. The truth is that little scientific evidence supports naturopathic methods. Naturopathic medicine focuses on maintaining a balanced system and promoting the body’s natural healing ability. Living a healthy lifestyle can do a lot to prevent the development of disease. Natural supplements and colonics, however, are not going to cure cancer.

Held to the Same Expectations

Washington is one of few states with legal statutes governing the licensing of naturopathic physicians. Licensing provides some protection to Washington residents, as practitioners must meet state educational requirements to obtain licenses. Naturopathic physicians are catalogued on the Department of Health website, where patients can look up the credentials of and past disciplinary actions against medical professionals.

Naturopathic doctors (N.D.s) must be held to the same standards of safety and responsibility as medical physicians. N.D.s must provide sufficient quality of care to the patients who trust them with their lives, including:

  • Correct Diagnosis: As medical practitioners, naturopaths must exercise diagnostic skill. Diagnosis can be difficult for any physician, and misdiagnosis is not always malpractice. When coupled with negligence and injury, however, naturopathic misdiagnosis is grounds for a malpractice suit. Read more about misdiagnosis, negligence, injury and malpractice for a more detailed explanation of how they are related.
  • Informed Consent: All doctors have an ethical and legal obligation to inform patients of their options and the likely outcomes of treatment. Naturopathic physicians are not immune from this requirement. Only then can patients make an informed decision about whether they want to continue with naturopathic options. Exaggerating or fabricating treatment outcomes interferes with this process and can qualify as negligence and even malicious intent.
  • Referral to a Medical Doctor: Some illnesses are outside the scope of naturopathic medicine. In these cases, a naturopath must inform the patient of these limitations and refer them to a qualified specialist. After all, a podiatrist would not treat a heart disorder, but would instead refer the patient to a cardiac specialist. Operating outside one’s level of expertise can constitute malpractice.

According to Washington State law WAC 246-836-210, naturopaths may only treat malignancies – conditions that progressively worsen – in collaboration with an osteopathic or medical doctor.

Naturopathic Negligence Causes Serious Injury and Even Death

Helms came close to killing one of her patients, sending her to Tijuana, Mexico to have an IV port inserted into her arm and then giving her multiple treatments of DMSO and bovine (cow) stem cells. After her final treatment, the patient became seriously ill and went to the emergency room where she was immediately placed in the ICU. Initially told she only had hours to live due to organ failure, the patient pulled through. She spent six weeks in the hospital before she was transferred to a skilled nursing facility and later to an assisted living facility.

While Helms is an extreme case involving fraud, her behavior illustrates key components of naturopathic malpractice. Helms failed to correctly diagnose her patient, provided unconventional treatment and failed to refer the patient to a qualified medical facility.

At Perey Law, we are experienced in proving naturopathic malpractice. We successfully brought justice to a family who lost their daughter to an acute asthma attack. In this case, the treating naturopathic physician failed to direct the family to the emergency room, providing unsuccessful treatment and delaying proper medical attention until it was too late.

Contact Us

If you or a loved one has been injured due to naturopathic negligence, please contact us immediately. We understand the legal context of naturopathic practice and can help you get the compensation you deserve. We provide a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys during which we will discuss your legal options.