A 64-year-old Johnson County man went to a Brookside spa for an intravenous infusion of vitamins — a holistic treatment that’s becoming trendy despite skepticism from the medical establishment.
It was the 12th infusion he’d had in the previous three months. But this time was different.
About 10 minutes after the IV started the man felt like his skin was crawling. He started throwing up. The IV was stopped and he went home, where the vomiting continued and he spiked a fever of 103 degrees. The next morning he was admitted to the University of Kansas Hospital with symptoms of organ failure.
Three days later he died.
Authorities have not linked his death to the IV he received at Element Wellness Spa Studio on Nov. 30. But the case has medical professionals questioning whether evidence at the spa was thrown away. And they question whether the growing non-medical IV industry needs more oversight.
The spa’s physician, Kelly Logan, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Star is not identifying the man who died by name because his family has asked for privacy.
His autopsy report, compiled by the Jackson County medical examiner’s office, says he died because of underlying medical conditions. But the report said those conditions raise questions about whether he should have been given the IV infusion in the first place.
“It is important to assess the overall health of individuals seeking intravenous vitamin infusion therapy, including laboratory studies to assess kidney and liver function prior to the initiation of therapy,” the report says.
The autopsy says that extensive blood tests performed at KU for bacterial, viral and fungal infections came back negative. The man’s official cause of death was organ failure due mainly to cirrhosis of the liver, with contributing factors of high blood pressure and obesity.
But Stanley Goldfarb, a kidney specialist at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital who has been critical of the elective IV industry, said it would have been impossible to rule out an infection from the IV without examining the materials that were used at Element Wellness.
“It certainly sounds like something happened in the infusion,” Goldfarb said. “Unless the authorities obtained some cultures or chemical analysis of what was infused, it is impossible to know for sure. Toxins can be in the infused material, even bacteria, and not show up on culture or assessment of the patient.”
Goldfarb said that if the man had taken ill during an IV at a hospital, all of the materials would have been tested for signs of contamination.
But the Jackson County medical examiner wasn’t able to do that in this case.
“According to KU (Hospital), the infusion center told KU that the materials had been discarded,” medical examiner spokeswoman Marshanna Hester said via email. “As such, there were no materials for the M.E.’s office to examine.”
Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said wellness spas aren’t among the medical facilities regulated by his department. But in the wake of the Johnson County man’s death, he said, it may be time to update those regulations.
He also said the state medical board should scrutinize whether physicians at wellness spas are providing substandard care that puts people at risk.
“That is an appropriate thing for the Missouri Board of Healing Arts to consider and it’s an appropriate thing for us to look into — do we have a gap in our regulations?” Williams said.
Elective infusions of vitamins began in Las Vegas, where they were touted both as a treatment for hangovers and a way to maintain health. They’ve since spread nationwide, thanks in part to testimonials from celebrities like the singer Adele. There are now several companies in Kansas City that provide elective IVs, at wellness spas and sometimes in clients’ homes.
The medical establishment has expressed skepticism, though, saying most Americans get all the vitamins they need by mouth and there are real risks every time a needle is inserted into a vein to put a substance directly into someone’s bloodstream, even by a medical professional. A 2013 study in England found that as many as 20 percent of hospital patients who got an IV suffered complications because it wasn’t done correctly.
Other Kansas City-area physicians have faced scrutiny from the Kansas medical board for elective IVs.
The board suspended a doctor and a chiropractor last year from working at IV Nutrition in Overland Park, saying that the site didn’t have proper controls over dosages of potentially harmful substances like magnesium and that a customer who came into the clinic with nausea and vomiting didn’t get properly examined before being given an IV.
The two have since had their licenses reinstated after they agreed to change the way they practice. Their lawyer, Brian Niceswanger, said they had agreed to have the doctor review potential clients’ electronic medical histories before they’re given IVs.
When Meredith Leach Snyder applied for a Kansas physicians’ license to expand her mobile IV business across the state line last year, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts said her company didn’t meet its standards for medical record-keeping or having plans in place for patients who have allergic reactions.
Snyder was granted a license after she changed her practices, but was also required to take a medical record-keeping seminar and have her charts monitored for six months to ensure her company stays in compliance.
By the time the Johnson County man got to KU Hospital, there was probably little anyone could have done to save him, Goldfarb said after reading the autopsy report. He said the death merits more investigation.
“Certainly patients can develop such a clinical picture without having an infusion,” Goldfarb said via email, “but the acuity of the reaction and the proximity to the infusion make one very concerned that there may have been a causal link.”