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Big crowd arrives late for chelation hearing

But many who came to speak before the Board of Medicine in favor of chelation arrived too late. More hearings are planned.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2000

TAMPA -- After a rowdy meeting interrupted by shouted accusations and insults, a committee of the Florida Board of Medicine voted Friday to hold two public hearings on chelation therapy, a controversial alternative medicine many patients swear by.

The dates for the hearings were not set, but board director Tanya Williams expected both to be held within two or three months, with one in Central Florida and the other in South Florida. The board's alternative medicine committee also will schedule an educational seminar on chelation.

That, however, did nothing to mollify hundreds of chelation supporters who came to Friday's meeting ready to speak their mind on the therapy.

"I'm not going to shut up!" yelled Dr. Bruce R. Dooley, a Naples physician who is president of the pro-chelation Alliance for Medical Freedom. "This is a kangaroo court!"

Dooley left the meeting after board members called for a security guard, but he soon returned carrying a large, stuffed kangaroo.

In chelation, a compound called EDTA (ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid) and vitamins are dripped into the body intravenously. Chelation is a standard procedure for removing lead from the body, but its practitioners think it also cures conditions ranging from clogged arteries to macular degeneration. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and mainstream medicine doubt its general effectiveness.

Supporters arrived in busloads from Jacksonville and Ocala, and some flew in from as far away as Ohio, but most missed the meeting entirely. Despite early indications that the chelation discussion would start at 1 p.m., the Board of Medicine's alternative medicine committee took up the issue two hours earlier, well before the buses arrived.

Committee chairman Dr. John W. Glotfelty, a Lakeland ophthalmologist, said he told a pro-chelation lawyer that the discussion had been rescheduled well ahead of time. But chelation supporters accused the board of changing the meeting time repeatedly, right up until it began, to thwart public comment.

Williams said that her staff erroneously and unintentionally told some callers that a public hearing on chelation therapy would take place at 1 p.m. That, however, did little to tone down the raucous meeting. Repeating that the meeting was not a public hearing, Glotfelty allowed seven chelation supporters to speak for two minutes each.

Chuck Cox, a Palm Harbor retiree who is head of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Friends of Chelation Society, said he had triple bypass heart surgery in 1993, began suffering chest pains five years later and was legally blind before beginning chelation. Thirty-five treatments later, he said his health and vision are good.

"I can see now; I can read the paper, so chelation works," Cox said, his voice choked with emotion. "The people who say chelation does not work ought to open their eyes and their minds."

By the time most supporters arrived and put on their pro-chelation T-shirts, they had only a few television cameras to wave their signs at. The Board of Medicine's committee already had adjourned, and several board members leaving the Hilton Tampa Airport passed by protesters on their way in.

"It was a shock," said Dorothea Evans, 74, a retired licensed practical nurse who rode two hours on a bus from Ocala only to learn that board members had left. "I think it was a terrible thing that these doctors are taking away the rights of individuals to make their own decisions on their health care."

The Board of Medicine tried to limit chelation more than two decades ago, but in 1980 the Florida Supreme Court ruled it did not have grounds to do so. This year, it decided to look at chelation again after the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported that the technique is attracting dozens of doctors with troubled pasts.

In December, the newspaper documented that nearly 29 percent of the 146 Florida doctors who offer chelation have been sanctioned for offenses ranging from giving shoddy medical care to dispensing narcotics recklessly. By comparison, fewer than 2 percent of all Florida doctors have been disciplined.

Moreover, the newspaper reported that 59 of the 146 chelation doctors in Florida either lack medical malpractice insurance or hospital admitting privileges, both widely considered essential to sound medical practice. That's a rate about five times higher than the norm.

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