Following an NBCLA I-Team investigation, more patients are coming forward saying they were desperate for help and paid thousands of dollars to a Southern California chiropractic company for it -- but it was all for nothing.
Michele Botts reached out to the NBCLA I-Team about an expensive neuropathy treatment she thought was bogus. Since that story about Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic aired on Aug. 14, 2019, others have called us saying they too feel taken advantage of.
These are people who say they are on fixed incomes with little money to spare, but they share one thing in common: They are desperate for relief from a nerve condition known as neuropathy.
"I was sitting there watching [the NBCLA I-Team report] with my jaw hanging open," Stephanie Burnette said.
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"All I could say was, 'This is what we went through!'"
She and her husband Lonzell both suffer from the debilitating nerve condition known as neuropathy. So when they received an invitation in the mail for a free dinner and seminar about nerve damage, they went.
"I was thinking, 'Oh my God. Maybe there is a way that they can help me and I won't feel the pins and needles and the numbness and not being able to feel the floor when I walk," Stephanie said.
They said what they heard at that dinner scared them.
"The end result of it not being treated could be amputation or a life in a wheelchair so my husband said, 'Let's go ahead, you know, do this.'"
She said it's the same presentation our producer heard in July when she attended a similar free dinner with a hidden camera.
So Stephanie and Lonzell decided to go for a consultation at Optimal Health, a business run by chiropractor Philip Straw.
Stephanie said when they arrived there was "another high pitch presentation" and the Burnetts said "yes."
They agreed to pay thousands of dollars for treatment which they say included a dozen in-office visits and some equipment for use at home.
"It was basically a bunch of lights and whistles," she said.
The $16,000 collective cost was not covered by insurance and the financing was arranged by Optimal Health. With the finance charges, their bill is now nearly $25,000.
"That's just way too much money for a completely unproven therapy," Dr. Jonathan Katz said.
Dr. Katz is a neurologist who serves on the advisory board of the Orange County nonprofit Neuropathy Action Foundation. He tells us people will often feel better initially with any treatment.
"Sure, patients get a placebo effect, but it gets to be an ethical question if your targets are people who are on fixed incomes," Dr. Katz said.
When asked whether she thinks people understand what they're signing up for and the financial consequences, Stephanie said: "No, I do not. Because we didn't. We had no idea what we were letting ourselves into."
The biggest charge on the Burnetts' recommended treatment plan was a $4,995 home therapy treatment system, which includes a HoMedics foot massager.
"I wouldn't be surprised if you could find this at Walmart," Stephanie said.
In fact, you can. It retails for less than $28 online.
The recommended home therapy system does not include price breakdowns for each item, but here's what we found. The Burnetts also got a "Paleo for Every Day" diet book that lists a retail price of $11.
We called the company that sells EFAC pain relieving cream, and they told us it sells for $26.95 a jar. The remaining two items in the system are considered proprietary -- three bottles of Neutragenix capsules that promise to help repair damaged nerve tissue and a light therapy device.
Together, those items comprise the home therapy treatment system valued at nearly $5,000 by Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic.
"They did nothing. I could have done what they did ... put a light bulb on my feet," Lonzell said.
How would Dr. Katz advise his own patients?
"I would say this thing sounds too expensive and I can tell you for sure there is no evidence it works. At which point I would say, I wouldn't go near that thing with a 10-foot pole," Dr. Katz said.
Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic told the NBCLA I-Team in January it was closing its doors, but it appears it has since reopened as "Superior Health Centers."
Three of the four locations share identical addresses. The fourth is now just a couple of miles away from the original Optimal Health office.
Straw is still marketing his neuropathy treatments on TV. We called the 800 number shown on the commercial this week and it now connects to Superior Health Centers.
We've tried to reach Straw and Superior Health for comment. They have not responded. But, previously an attorney for Superior Health Centers told us: "While patients acknowledge that there is no guaranty that they will improve from the treatment, many patients report significant improvement" and "...Philip Straw is neither practicing at the facility nor is he a professional tenant of Superior Health Centers."
Meanwhile, the Burnetts are desperate to get their money back. They asked for our help. We reached out on their behalf, but heard nothing back. The Burnetts want to warn others.
"It's painful to the wallet, trust me, and it makes you feel so stupid. How in the world were we dumb enough to fall for this?" Stephanie said.
Stephanie and Lonzell Burnett complained to the California Chiropractic Examiners Board about their experience.
We asked the Board about the complaints it has received regarding Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic. The Board told NBCLA they are "looking into the situation" and "taking it very seriously."
Consumers can contact the Board online here or call 916-263-5355 to speak with someone.