Staff at a Shoreview chiropractic clinic where an 18-month-old boy was fatally injured reported equipment problems in the critical seconds after the accident.
Amy Newton, 27, was strapped onto a 315-pound treatment table at First Chiropractic on June 9 when her son, Benjamin Newton, climbed underneath and pushed a button that caused the table to lower, according to a report released today by the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office. The toddler was crushed by the treatment table and suffered fatal head injuries.
The Sheriff's Office investigation determined the death was an accident.
Clinic staff had left Newton and her three children, all under the age of four, in the treatment room alone. Newton screamed for help and tried to free herself from the table to rescue her son, authorities said.
The report includes interviews with clinic staff, who told authorities they rushed into the room and tried to lift the table off the boy. Two clinic employees told authorities they pressed a foot control device to raise the table, but the device did not work.
After several efforts, staff yelled for the clinic's doctor to provide assistance. The report said Dr. Lowell Magelssen entered the room and also attempted to lift the table. The doctor "pressed the 'up' switch on the foot control device in (an) attempt to raise the table," the report said. "The table did not raise."
Document: Read the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office report, annotated by an MPR reporter.
After three attempts, Magelssen was finally able to raise the table, the report said. He administered first aid and CPR and staff called 911. Paramedics transported the toddler to Regions Hospital, where he died less than an hour later.
Magelssen told authorities he didn't know why the lever wasn't working. He said someone might have unplugged the table from an electrical outlet in the middle of the accident to stop it from lowering further. The chiropractor said he spoke with the table manufacturer after the accident, and the manufacturer planned to inspect the clinic's equipment.
A spokesperson for the Chattanooga Group, the company that manufactures the table, did not respond to a voicemail message left Monday. The FDA cleared the machine for marketing in 2006. FDA spokeswoman Karen Riley said there are no other reported injuries associated with the machine, which is sold under the name Triton DTS (Dynamic Tension System) TRT-600.
Magelssen also did not respond to phone messages and emails Monday seeking information about the inspection. Earlier this month, he declined to answer questions about whether the clinic routinely leaves patients unattended during treatment.
"The family has asked me not to comment on the tragic accident at our office," he wrote in an email sent June 13.
A PREVENTABLE ACCIDENT?
Chiropractor Mike Johnson, of Cathedral Hill Chiropractic in St. Paul, said the accident could have been prevented if the table had certain safety controls. Johnson uses a table with a side guard, which he said blocks objects that might get stuck between the table and the floor.
"I'm glad I have it, but up until this point, I didn't even think about it," he said. "I never thought of something like this happening."
Johnson thinks manufacturers should also consider installing sensors that would lock treatment tables and prevent them from lowering if a child was detected underneath. "I think that now that this happened, that should be a viable option," he said.
He hopes the accident will also encourage chiropractors to provide better supervision of patients and their children. At his clinic, Johnson said he allows parents to bring one child into the treatment room, but he requires the child sit in a chair and never leaves the patient unattended. If a parent brings more than one child, the clinic receptionist watches the children in the waiting room, he said.
Authorities who responded to the accident at First Chiropractic found toys on the floor near and underneath the table. Johnson expressed concern that clinic staff would allow toys in the treatment room.
"My toys are out in the waiting room, and they stay out there," he said. "And then I have a door that locks to prevent children from coming in."
However, a leading chiropractic educator said it's common for providers to leave patients alone, with or without children, during treatment.
"It's considered an unattended therapy," said Renee DeVries, dean of the College of Chiropractic at Northwestern Health Services University in Bloomington. "It would be considered appropriate or common practice to leave patients alone when they're on the machine."
DeVries said chiropractic students receive education on how to safely operate equipment, but the school does not provide guidelines on whether children should be allowed in the room during treatment.
"I think it's just a tragic accident," she said. "I think that it reminds everybody of the importance of safety, but I think that it's important that everyone just support those involved. Horrible accidents happen."