Kirkland naturopath Lucinda Messer’s license has been suspended by the state Board of Naturopathy for a variety of violations, but she may have still been treating cancer patients in violation of the suspension, The Seattle Times has learned.
Brian Hirsh was ready to try anything to prolong his life or perhaps even cure him of stage 4 colon cancer.
In October 2012, he started treatment with naturopath Lucinda Messer at her retreat, the Goddess Sanctuary, in Kirkland.
But Messer misled him and lied, state Department of Health records reveal. She didn’t consult an oncologist. She also didn’t explain the risks of unproven treatments before giving them to Hirsh.
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Washington Department of Health
And when Hirsh died weeks later, Department of Health documents show Messer forged his medical records to protect herself from any repercussions.
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Hirsch’s wife, Lauren Hirsh, filed a medical malpractice lawsuit last year in King County.
“Dr. Messer gave us false hope and we paid thousands of dollars for her treatments, which we were led to believe could treat and possible cure (Mr. Hirsh’s) cancer,” Lauren Hirsh’s suit alleges.
In January 2016, the Board of Naturopathy also suspended Messer’s license to practice for five years, citing a host of violations, including treatment with unproven therapies, falsifying medical records, failing to obtain informed consent, advertising that she could treat cancer and prescribing drugs beyond her expertise, thereby misleading cancer patients. The board does not cite specific cases, but Lauren Hirsh’s lawsuit alleges they involve her late husband and another patient.
When a Department of Health investigator posed as a pancreatic cancer patient during a telephone consultation in 2013, state records show Messer said, “We can’t say we treat cancer, but that’s silly because we do. I have extensive training in integrative oncology and treat cancer patients all the time.”
Despite her license suspension, the 1994 Bastyr University graduate may have still been treating cancer patients, in violation of the suspension order.
Messer is the registered agent of Vitality Vitamin, a company that records show was located in a Kirkland house where supplements and naturopath consultations were being offered. Messer promised on Vitality Vitamin’s website to investigate a person’s illness and evaluate blood tests for cancer patients.
She also invited people to the grand opening of the company on Sept. 1, Department of Health records show. A man who answered the door of the house last week said he’s lived there for six months.
The Department of Health has been investigating Messer’s actions with the vitamin company and three other complaints against her, including that she ordered lab tests and gave a fake prescription while suspended, according to state documents obtained through a public-records request.
Naturopaths: A definition
Naturopathy, as defined by Washington law, is the practice of the art and science of diagnosis, prevention and treatment of disorders of the body by stimulation or support or both of the natural processes of the human body. It may include manual manipulation, the prescription, administration, dispensing, and use, except for the treatment of malignancies or neoplastic disease, of nutrition and food science and physical modalities, homeopathy and certain medicines of mineral, animal and botanical origin, hygiene and immunization and common diagnostic procedures.
Source: Revised Code of Washington
Messer, in an email to The Seattle Times, insists she has done nothing wrong. She declined to be interviewed by the newspaper.
“I have helped hundreds of patients heal from several maladies including cancer,” she wrote in the email. “Washington is one of the most difficult states to live in if you would like to use alternative cancer therapies.”
Blake Maresh, executive director of the Board of Naturopathy, said Messer’s actions “all combined make an egregious situation. It’s a serious violation of scope of practice to treat cancer. There’s nothing ambiguous in the law about that.”
Messer also said she had surrendered her license in January, but that’s not true, according to the Department of Health.
Asked what actions the Board of Naturopathy could take, Maresh said it could increase the length of Messer’s license suspension, ask her to surrender her license or revoke it, if the board determines she’s recently treated patients.
But revocations are rare.
Based on an analysis of license data, The Times found the state has revoked the licenses of only two naturopaths in the past 12 years, one for sexual contact with patients and another for giving his own expired prescription to a patient.
For a license to be revoked, “there has to be without a reasonable doubt that they can’t be rehabilitated,” said Katherine Slater-Einert, a case manager for the Board of Naturopathy.
In the lawsuit, Messer is accused of shortening the life of Hirsh by telling him chemotherapy treatments were unnecessary. Had he received those treatments from an oncologist, the lawsuit states, he would have extended his life by a year or two, based on an oncologist’s estimate.
A court document provided by Messer shows the lawsuit has been settled but a judge hasn’t signed off.
Shortly after arriving at the spa, also known as Pacific Health Restoration Center, Hirsh received a regime of laetrile, which contains cyanide and is banned by the Food and Drug Administration. Treatments also included a Rife machine, a device that transmits radio waves that purportedly treat cancer. There is no scientific evidence that shows it cures cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Messer forged Hirsh’s signature on an informed-consent form and was misleading in maintaining she had consulted with his oncologist, according to a Department of Health statement of charges.
The Times, in a three-part series in 2007, identified the Rife machine as one of many illegal devices used to con patients into believing it would cure a myriad illnesses.
Neither Lauren Hirsh nor her attorney returned calls for comment.
Messer also treated Willow Lovage after she was diagnosed with rectal cancer.
In a lawsuit, Lovage said she stopped chemotherapy and radiation because of vomiting and diarrhea, and turned to Messer for help in July 2012.
Among the treatments Messer allegedly prescribed were laetrile and three castor oil enemas per day for three months. Messer then hired Lovage to work off her bill by cleaning the residential spa, serving soup to patients and presenting workshops on the enemas, according to her lawsuit.
Lovage suffered cyanogenic poisoning, according to the lawsuit. The Goddess Sanctuary is no longer in business.
“All of the patients that Lovage was hired to help care for are now dead,” the lawsuit alleged.
Lovage settled the lawsuit in 2016. Lovage and her attorney also didn’t return calls.
This isn’t the first time Messer has been sued following the death of a patient.
In 2001, Megan Wilson, 16, who had chronic asthma, was having trouble breathing, according to a 2006 story in The Seattle Weekly.
While waiting to be seen by Messer in her office, Wilson was treated by an acupuncturist. Then Messer gave Wilson a vitamin B-12 shot and herbal remedy without evaluating her. Messer claims she told the family to go to the hospital if the asthma worsened, but Wilson’s mother contends Messer told her to return the next day if her daughter’s condition didn’t improve, the newspaper reported.
Shortly after going home, Wilson couldn’t breath and lost consciousness as her father drove her to the Lakeshore Clinic. She died in the parking lot of an asthmatic attack. After the Wilson family filed a lawsuit alleging negligence by Messer, Messer told The Seattle Weekly she settled it for $250,000 to $300,000.
Messer denied any wrongdoing and was cleared by the Board of Naturopathy.