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Girl's Death Raises Questions About Alternative Therapies


More and more people are turning to alternative therapies to deal with serious medical problems.

But now, a little girl's death is raising serious questions about some of those therapies.

"NewsChannel 5 Investigates" discovered that authorities want to know whether the six-year-old girl may have been harmed, instead of being helped, by the treatment she received.

Her parents say she loved princesses and Disney.

Anna Starr didn't let her epilepsy keep her from smiling. Her parents turned to alternative therapies and said Anna improved.

But last year Anna died at the age of six. The autopsy stated her death was due to seizure disorder -- and was natural.

It seemed Anna's story was over.

But, nearly a year later, investigators served a search warrant on what used to be the Center For Proactive Medicine, a clinic on music row. The warrant raises questions about the role alternative therapies played in Anna's death.

Investigators were looking for evidence of child abuse and criminally negligent homicide.

According to the search warrant, Anna received chelation therapy, an alternative treatment for epilepsy, just days before she died.

Doug Gilmore was co-owner of the clinic that treated Anna.

"I can tell you the chelation therapy in my unprofessional opinion did not harm that child," Gilmore told investigative reporter Ben Hall.

The therapy has been used for decades to treat lead poisoning. It works by putting a solution into the body using an IV.

"It latches onto heavy metals throughout your system and you urinate them out," explained Gilmore.

He is not a doctor but he says his business treated thousands of adults in Tennessee with chelation therapy.

"We chelated over 15,000 treatments over eight years. We never had one single adverse reaction, not one," Gilmore insisted.

A couple years ago, the clinic started doing chelation on children with autism and, in Anna's case, epilepsy.

Even though chelation therapy is not FDA approved beyond lead poisoning, many parents -- including Anna's -- insist the treatment works.

They believe environmental toxins caused their children's illness - and chelation could cure them.

Gilmore agreed. "What I'm telling you is I saw people with these two eyes get better. I saw kids talk that never talked before."

Even celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, who has a son with autism, have publicly supported the use of alternative treatments like chelation therapy to remove toxins.

The Starrs agreed. They started a foundation in Anna's honor. It has a website full of Anna's pictures designed to raise awareness about chelation and other therapies.

Vanderbilt doctor Susan McGrew is concerned about the growing use of chelation therapy on children with autism and other illnesses.

"My opinion of chelation is that it is dangerous," Dr. McGrew said.

She does not know of the Anna Starr investigation, but says children have died because of the therapy.

"The danger with chelation therapy is when it can't remove heavy metals, it's removing other things from the body," explained Dr. McGrew.

But some parents claim the treatment has actually cured children of autism.

In an internet interview Fred and Sarah Starr, who are both doctors, claimed Anna's brother no longer had autism because of a series of alternative therapies.

Sarah Starr said, "Sammy's two and a half."

"And he's your autistic child?" an interviewer asked.

"Ah, he used to be," Sarah Starr answered.

Dr. Fred Starr now promotes a number of alternative therapies - including chelation - in his private practice.

In the interview he said, "You have to look at it that you can make these interventions that can make a dramatic difference in their development."

But investigators want to look at Anna's full medical history for more clues about her death.

Doug Gilmore believes chelation therapy is not responsible.

He says, "If it was a death they don't know about, they should investigate it fully, cause there are a whole lot of other variables than chelation."

Anna received several types of alternative treatments. Chelation is the only one mentioned in the search warrant.

Done properly, it is not illegal -- but it's controversial when it's not used for lead poisoning.

Some doctors have been disciplined for using the wrong chelating agents. That can be very dangerous, but it's also rare.

Authorities say their investigation is far from over.

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