Woman who posed as doctor sentenced: Kathleen Helm's treatments almost killed 2

SAN DIEGO - A woman who posed as a doctor and misled a number of people into believing they needed infusions and injections of animal cells to treat Lyme disease was ordered Monday to serve 18 months in local custody and will be out of jail but under supervision for an additional 18 months.

Kathleen Ann Helms, 57, pleaded guilty last October to four counts of conspiracy to practice medicine without a license. She will have to pay $2,880 in restitution to her victims and several hundred dollars in court fees.

Superior Court Dwayne Moring, who imposed the terms spelled out in a plea agreement, told Helms she endangered people's lives -- almost killing two people -- by practicing medicine without a license. He reminded the defendant that a repeat of her criminal actions after she's released from jail would be a violation of the agreement.

Helms also claimed to be injecting patients with bovine stem cells, which are not approved for the treatment of Lyme disease.

"Your unauthorized practice of medicine almost resulted in the loss of at least one individual's life. Are you disputing that ma'am?" Moring asked Helms.  

"Your honor, I would never hurt anyone. I would never put anyone's life in danger ever," Helms answered softly.

Defense attorney Richard Siref said Helms has cancer, Lyme disease and other ailments. The defendant said jail medical officials won't give her the supplements that she needs.

Outside court, a Fallbrook woman said Helms properly diagnosed her and her husband with Lyme disease after a number of misdiagnoses.

"There are as many of us who really believe she saved us and sent us on the right path to being able to someday get rid of this bad disease," said Fallbrook resident Franzie Epperson. "I'm just very supportive of her. We feel like she saved our lives."

A nurse who helped Helms in her treatment of patients, Jacqueline Smith, pleaded guilty to practicing medicine without a license and was sentenced to a year in jail.

Deputy District Attorney Gina Darvas said Smith inserted intravenous lines in patients who went to Helms for treatment at the BrightHouse Wellness Center in Encinitas. Darvas said Helms couldn't have carried out her illegal treatments without Smith's help.

The FBI opened an investigation after two people treated by Helms filed complaints with the California Medical Board, claiming Helms falsely represented herself as a doctor of naturopathy and an expert on Lyme disease, Darvas said.

Helms was charged in connection with the treatment of four patients along with a fifth uncharged victim.

According to an affidavit filed in the case, Helms diagnosed a patient with the inflammatory illness after looking at a sample of blood under a microscope, then prescribed a treatment plan that included shots of bovine stem cells from Germany.

Helms directed the patient to go to a Tijuana hospital to have a peripherally inserted central line put into one of her arms so Helms could give treatments intravenously. The patient agreed to pay $300 for the insertion of the line and $30,000 for the treatment Helms recommended, according to the affidavit.

The patient suffered multiple complications with the insertion of the line and had to return to Tijuana three times to make the line functional, according to the FBI.

The patient subsequently returned to Helms' office, where she was hooked to an IV and infused with four bags of dimethyl sulfoxide, an experimental medicinal solvent, and two stem-cell injections in the stomach, according to the affidavit.

The patient returned to Helms' office three more times and underwent a similar regime that included infusions and injections. On the evening of the last treatment, the woman became seriously ill at home and was taken to an emergency room and immediately placed in an intensive-care unit, according to the affidavit.

The patient initially was told she only had hours to live because her organs were shutting down, but ultimately was hospitalized for six weeks, then placed into a skill-nursing facility and later an assisted-living facility, according to the FBI.

A man diagnosed by Helms with Lyme disease was actually suffering from prostate cancer, Darvas said,

Each victim - referred to Helms through other alternative practitioners - spent at least $6,000, according to Darvas.

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