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Encinitas woman charged with practicing medicine without license

Diseases and IllnessesFBIJustice System

SANTEE, Calif. -- An Encinitas woman accused of practicing medicine without a license and causing a patient to become severly ill was charged with 11 felonies Wednesday.

Kathleen Ann Helms, also known as Catherine Bright-Helms, plead not guilty to nine charges of practicing without a license and two charges of grand theft. She was ordered held in jail in lieu of $250,000 bail.

"She told victims she was a medical MD," said Deputy District Attorney Gina Darvis during the arraignment in a San Diego courtroom. "She claimed to be an expert in Lyme disease. She diagnosed these victims with Lyme disease even though they had been previously diagnosed by actual medical doctors."

The 57-year-old was booked into Las Colinas women's jail in Santee Monday after federal agents and detectives with the California Medical Board arrested her, according to the FBI.

Authorities began investigating Helms based on complaints to the state Medical Board accusing her of falsely representing herself as a doctor of naturopathy in Encinitas and Oak Park, Ill.

Helms, who operated a business called BrightHouse Wellness on North El Camino Real in Encinitas, allegedly had been diagnosing Lyme disease patients and advising them to undergo a treatment plan that involved the infusion of dimethyl sulfoxide, injections of animal cells and taking vitamins, the FBI reported.

According to an affidavit in the case, Helms diagnosed a patient with the inflammatory illness after examining 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.

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

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. The treatment session took about seven hours, according to the FBI.

"DMSO is a solvent," said Darvas. "It has very limited medical use. The FDA has not approved it for the use the defendant was doing."

The patient returned to Helms' office three more times and underwent a similar regime of care 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. 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.

Investigators believe there are other victims in the case.

Richard Barker was treated by Helm weekly for Lyme disease.

"I was suffering from Lyme disease and I was having a very, very bad time," said Barker, who is unable to stand on his own two feet. "I could barely walk, my complexion was gray and I could barely see."

Barker said he's having a hard time believing the facts against his former doctor.  To him, he only knows one fact and that she saved his life.

"I find her to be very compassionate and she helped me a lot," said Barker through tears. "I'm kind of in shock."

Judge David Szumowski set Helm's bail for $250,000.  If convicted, she will face a maximum sentence of 12 years and 8 months in prison.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun