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Kaiser tells local woman to 'live with the pain'

Friday, May 07, 2010

By Scott Thomas Anderson (sanderson@ledger-dispatch.com)

Linda Coulter is in agonizing discomfort every day.

The Ione woman fears she will soon lose both of her legs if she's not treated with Micro vas - Neuro vasix technology. However, that scenario has grown bleak lately, as Coulter has been drawn into an ongoing conflict with her health care provider, Kaiser Permanente, about the nature of her diagnosis.

The drama started more than a year ago, when Coulter suddenly began experiencing what she describes as "throbbing, piercing pain" in both of her legs. Eventually, her legs began swelling, until they were visibly blue and purple. Coulter's husband, Omer, took her to a Kaiser hospital in Sacramento, where she was diagnosed with neuropathy - a condition of damaged nerves associated with diabetes. According to Omer, a doctor at Kaiser informed them there was little that could be done for Linda, and that she would just have to "live with the pain."

Yet, as the year progressed, so did the severity of that pain. Linda and her husband made five more increasingly desperate trips to Kaiser, eventually getting transferred to the hospital in Stockton, after they complained about the care in Sacramento. Meanwhile, Omer began doing research of his own on the Internet about neuropathy. He believes the symptoms for the condition are far different than what he witnesses his wife go through on a daily basis. He began talking to medical professionals outside of the Kaiser network. He's now convinced that Coulter has been misdiagnosed.

"The medical people and clinics I've talked to outside of Kaiser have told me that there's no way neuropathy would cause her legs to swell that size and turn purple," Omer explained to the Ledger Dispatch. "They've all indicated that she needs the blood vessels in her legs expanded or the pain will get worse and she will likely lose both her legs soon."

Omer and Linda found a clinic in Jackson, run by Dr. Don Hollingsworth, that offers the Micro vas - Neuro vasix technology treatment they believe would save Linda's legs. However, Kaiser refuses to pay for the treatment. Though prevented by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act from commenting on patients, Kaiser case managers have made their position clear in official letters to the Coulters: they stand firm with the original diagnosis that Linda only suffers from neuropathy.

"We denied this request because appropriate care is available within our plan," a case manager wrote to the Coulters on April 28. The letter goes on to say, "appropriate care and treatment are available within Kaiser Permanente, as neuropathy alone will not cause loss of limbs."

While neuropathy arguably may not cause the loss of limbs, various medical journals indicate that complications from certain types of neuropathy can be a factor in amputations. For Omer, that's not the point.

"It's not neuropathy that's causing this," he said. "Kaiser keeps saying it is; but they can't offer one explanation for why her legs are turning different colors, and they can't offer any suggestions for real treatment themselves. We've found a treatment right here in Jackson. They don't want to pay for it. They don't seem to care about how much horrible pain she's in every day. If it was up to them, she'd just sit there and suffer all the time."

Linda has filed an appeal with Kaiser. 

Scott Thomas Anderson

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