New York

Unlicensed Acupuncturist Is Charged After a Patient’s Lungs Collapse

An unlicensed acupuncturist in Queens punctured a woman’s lungs during a treatment, leading her to pass out on the street and requiring major surgery, according to prosecutors.

Yong De Lin, 66, was arraigned Monday on a four-count indictment charging him with assault, reckless endangerment and unlicensed practice of a profession.

“The defendant was not licensed, nor had even bothered to apply for licensure, and he very nearly killed his patient,” Melinda Katz, the Queens district attorney, said in a statement.

He had operated out of an office called C&W Medical on Union Street in Flushing, where he met the victim, Shujuan Jiang, 63, in May 2022, according to prosecutors. She had sought help for stomach and back pain, and received 17 treatments over the next six months, they said.

During the last treatment on Oct. 28, she grew ill, but Mr. Lin did more acupuncture and then sent her home, according to the charges. On her way, she grew short of breath and collapsed. A bystander called 911 and Ms. Jiang was taken to the hospital, where doctors determined that both of her lungs had collapsed from the acupuncture. Doctors had to operate to save her life, and she was hospitalized for six days.

The indictment charges that Mr. Lin used a “dangerous instrument” and operated “under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life,” creating a “grave risk of death.”

Ms. Katz urged others who received acupuncture from Mr. Lin to contact her office.

To obtain a license for acupuncture in New York, applicants must complete an exam administered by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in Washington.

Acupuncture is a healing practice in which small needles are inserted into the skin in specific locations to create balance in the body, according to principles of traditional Chinese medicine.

Dr. Yemeng Chen, president of the New York College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Mineola, N.Y., said he had never heard of a punctured lung in his nearly 40 years in the field.

Dr. Chen, who served on the acupuncture board for the state’s education department for 10 years, said it was a clear risk that students are carefully instructed in avoiding. The wrong technique at a point in the upper back between the spine and shoulder blade could puncture a lung, he said.

“You have to be very careful with needle depth and direction,” he said. “That’s why you need a license. The license’s purpose is for public safety.”

A 2013 article in the Journal of Thoracic Disease said that pneumothorax — the presence of air between the chest wall and lungs that could cause the lungs to collapse — is the most common serious acupuncture complication. But the condition is “quite rarely reported,” according to the study.

Dr. Chen said that people seeking acupuncture can easily verify a practitioner’s license on the website of the state education department’s Office of the Professions.

If convicted on all counts, Mr. Lin could face up to 25 years in prison. His court-appointed lawyer, Kathleen Gallo, said that a Mandarin interpreter was available only virtually during the arraignment on Monday, leaving her unable to communicate privately with her client in open court.

The judge ordered Mr. Lin back into court on Wednesday because of that, and he was held on $50,000 bail in the meantime, she said.

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