One year later: The autopsy results on Abubakar Tariq Nadama

i-e7a12c3d2598161273c9ed31d61fe694-ClassicInsolence.jpgNote: One year ago today, an autistic boy, Abubakar Tariq Nadama, died of a cardiac arrest while undergoing chelation therapy to try to "cure" his autism. Today, as I am on vacation, I have scheduled several of my old posts on the topic to appear.The investigation into his death is ongoing regarding whether to file criminal charges against the doctor, although it irritates the hell out of me that they are arguing over whether Tariq was given the "right" agent when in fact there is no "right" agent for chelation therapy for autism. The boy should never have been getting chelation to "cure" his autism, period.

This is the fourth in a series that I wrote over the ensuing weeks and months that I have scheduled to appear throughout the day today, the first anniversary of Tariq's death. Stop back later for more:

Here's an update on the story of Abubakar Tariq Nadama, the unfortunate 5 year old autistic boy who died while receiving chelation therapy in August. According to the Pittburgh Post-Gazette:

A 5-year-old autistic boy who went into cardiac arrest in his doctor's office died as a result of the controversial chelation therapy he was receiving as a treatment for his autism.

The manner of death of Abubakar Tariq Nadama, of Monroeville, has been listed as accidental while the investigation continues.

The findings released by the Butler County coroner's office don't say whether the treatment itself is dangerous or the child died from the way the treatment was administered.

In layman's terms, the administration of ethylene diamine tetra-acetate, commonly known as chelation, resulted in a lack of oxygen to the brain as well as irreversible heart damage, said Allegheny County Deputy Coroner Ed Strimlan.

The Allegheny County morgue conducted the autopsy on the child at the request of Butler County Coroner Bill Young.

"We determined there's a direct correlation between the EDTA and the lack of oxygen to the brain and the heart muscle damage. It's a total package, based on the autopsy, the histology [tissue sampling] and the toxicology [blood sampling]," Mr. Strimlan said.

The determination is sure to spark debate among parents, many of whom support chelation as a safe and effective therapy for autism. Others condemn the treatment as voodoo medicine.

The autopsy report indicates the manner of death was accidental. The other categories are natural, suicide and homicide.

No doubt chelation advocates will cry foul, but it looks as though the autopsy definitely indicates that chelation therapy killed the boy. Given the circumstances of the boy's death, it's pretty obvious that the cause was almost certainly hypocalcemia due to EDTA leading to cardiac arrest. At the time, I was afraid that the autopsy findings might not reflect EDTA as the cause of death, mainly because deaths from sudden cardiac arrest due to acute electrolyte abnormalities don't always produce concrete findings that let the pathologist pin down the exact cause. Such a result would have given the chelationists an "out" to claim that it wasn't the EDTA that killed Tariq. Fortunately, that didn't happen in this case. Too bad the parents are highly unlikely to sue Dr. Roy Kerry, the ENT doctor turned alternative medicine practitioner, because he wouldn't have a prayer of winning a malpractice suit against him. (If doctors in this country can be sued and lose for bad outcomes that aren't their fault, one hopes that someone like Dr. Kerry can be sued for bad outcomes that are his fault.) Maybe a big settlement or a big malpractice judgment against one (or, preferably more) of these autism chelationists would be what it would take to cool their love of this particular ineffective autism therapy somewhat.

I'm probably dreaming though.

I'll close with a speculation/prediction: Now that the autopsy report is out, I'm guessing that it probably won't be long before some chelationist somewhere (or perhaps even Dr. Kerry trying to avoid losing his medical license and/or going to jail for causing the death of a young child by giving him a useless treatment for autism) will hire Dr. Mohammed Al-Bayati, the "pathologist" who tried (and failed miserably) to rebut the L.A. County Coroner's autopsy report that concluded that Eliza Jane Scovill (daughter of prominent HIV/AIDS denialist Christine Maggiore) had died of HIV-related complications. After all, doing hack jobs on coroner's reports to try to keep his clients from going to jail is Dr. Al-Bayati's specialty, particularly if he can blame the death on vaccines. I can just see Dr. Al-Bayati exercising his special "skills" (such as they are) on the Nadama autopsy report. I hope I'm wrong, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see another Al-Bayati hatchet job on the way.

Just wait.

More on this story:

  1. Chelation Death: The Coroner Speaks (subtitled: Look Before You Leap)
  2. Abubakar's Death: The Coroner's Office Speaks

This post originally appeared on January 6, 2006 on the old blog.

As far as I know, my prediction has yet to come true, but with the possibility of criminal charges being filed against Dr. Roy Kerry, I still wouldn't be surprised if Dr. Al-Bayati ultimately didn't decide to make an appearance.


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My son is autistic. As much as i believe the DAN protocol is voodoo, my wife bought the nonsense. My son was chelated for about 1 year with no reduction of autistic traits. My question is: Why do state medical license authorities allow MD's to practice "witch doctor" medicine? Freedom is one thing, however when the state grants a license for one to practice medicine I would think certain standards of care are required. Why is an MD allowed to practice what amounts to crap medicine?

By ananomous (not verified) on 24 Aug 2006 #permalink

My question relates more to the AMA and/or the state boards. A license should require a evidence based medical practice. Otherwise licensed quacks would destroy the public's trust of the profession. Why do they not police themselves and stop this fraud that masquarades as advanced medicine?

By ananomous (not verified) on 25 Aug 2006 #permalink

Another very good question. Fraud can be a far bigger threat to a profession than simple incompetence.