An unlicensed acupuncturist has been criminally charged after a 63-year-old woman’s lungs collapsed as she walked home after receiving treatment from him at his Flushing office, officials said.
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz charged Yong De Lin, 66, with four counts of reckless endangerment, unauthorized practice of a profession, and assault in the first and second degree.
“The difference between receiving health care from a competent, licensed professional or someone who is unlicensed can mean the difference between life and death,” Katz said in a news release announcing the charges. She said Lin did not even bother to apply for the required state licensure.
Acupuncture, a practice common in Chinese medicine, involves inserting needles into the skin to alleviate chronic pain. To obtain a license in New York, professionals must complete over 4,000 hours of training via a New York education institution. Of those hours, 650 must be supervised clinical experience.
Dr. Beth Nugent, the president of the Acupuncture Society of New York, said failure to obtain a license through proper training can result in acupuncturists with a lack of knowledge on how to handle a needle or how deep it can go.
“People that are trying to do acupuncture under some other license or no license at all run the risk of puncturing lungs, piercing arteries, causing damage to muscle tissues, and nerve damage,” Nugent said.
Lin worked out of a medical office in Flushing. That’s where the victim received 17 acupuncture treatments from Lin between May 10 and Oct. 28 last year, the district attorney’s office said in the release.
The victim initially sought out the treatment to help with her stomach and back pain. As she walked home from an appointment, she had shortness of breath and collapsed on the sidewalk, the DA’s office said.
She was given emergency life-saving surgery and was hospitalized for six days, according to the DA’s office.
A 2013 study in the Journal of Thoracic Disease found that although lung collapse is rarely reported, it is the most common serious complication following acupuncture. Nugent said acupuncturists need expert anatomical knowledge of where the sac containing the lungs is located.
“It’s kind of like a balloon,” Nugent said. “If you pop that, the stuff inside is going to deflate, so it’s going to make it really hard to breathe.”
Nugent said that English proficiency can be a barrier to entry for those seeking acupuncture licensing in New York. The New York State Education Department requires acupuncture practitioners to demonstrate English proficiency through examination or postsecondary study. According Lin’s attorney, Kathleen Gallo, the defendant does not speak English.
Gallo said her client was arraigned via a virtual interpreter because there was no Mandarin interpreter in the building. Gallo said that was “not helpful,” and meant that she could not speak to her client privately during the proceedings.
The case returns to the court tomorrow, and Gallo said she intends to learn about Lin’s ties to the community so she can make a proper bail application.
Lin is being held on $50,000 bail. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison.
Katz is urging other victim’s of Lin’s practice to contact her office’s Elder Fraud unit.