Too Much Testosterone? Nurse Practitioner Accused of Causing 2 Deaths
Andrew Wolfson, Louisville Courier Journal Published 11:12 a.m. ET Nov. 30, 2018 | Updated 11:31 a.m. ET Nov. 30, 2018
To her friend and patient Thomas Hayden, nurse practitioner Karla King is a thorough and cautious professional.
Hayden, 70, a businessman who lives near Owensboro, said the testosterone treatments she gave him at the now-closed Balanced Life Medicine clinic were transformative.
“I have the body of a 55-year-old,” he said.
But King, 50, has been accused in lawsuits of causing the deaths by heart attack of two middle-aged patients by giving them excessive amounts of testosterone.
In October, she pleaded guilty in federal court to wire fraud.
And in a complaint filed with the Kentucky Board of Nursing and in an interview with police, former employees say she ordered testosterone, a controlled substance, through her late husband’s DEA number in the names of patients who didn’t want the drug, then illegally stockpiled it for sale to her own patients.
Karla King married Randall King, an Owensboro obstetrician-gynecologist, in 2012 and started a hormone practice the following year adjoining her husband’s practice. She closed her clinic after her husband’s death in 2016.
Hormone therapy is a burgeoning business in Kentucky and nationwide, but it also has come under attack. The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure in June banned a doctor, the medical director of the Louisville-based 25 Again clinic, from practicing hormone therapy, ruling she had violated acceptable and prevailing medical standards by giving hormones to people whose levels are within normal ranges.
On June, 25 Again also was sued for allegedly causing a patient’s death, and the Board of Nursing this month filed complaints against eight nurse practitioners who previously worked there, alleging they violated guidelines adopted by the American Thyroid Association and the Endocrine Society.
Proponents of hormone therapy say it makes patients feel better and treats symptoms such as fatigue and listlessness that can plague patients, even if their hormone levels are normal.
King is accused of causing the deaths of patients James “Bimbo” Pate, 60, and James “Tony” Blandford, 58, by giving them extra testosterone when their levels of the hormone were normal.
Louisville attorney Ronald Johnson, the lawyer representing both of their windows, said testosterone-pellet inserts sent Blandford’s levels “off the charts.”
The case filed by Pate’s estate was settled for an undisclosed amount.
In Blandford’s case, a medical review in November comprised of three physicians found that King’s clinic “failed to comply with the appropriate standard of care,” and that was a “substantial factor in producing a negative outcome” for Blandford, who died in 2016. The board’s opinion allowed the complaint to proceed in circuit court.
King denies liability in both cases. She did not respond to requests for comment for this article, but her attorney, John Caudill, said a three-year FBI investigation found she’d never harmed a patient.
The government did charge her with wire fraud for obtaining $20,000 worth of unspecified “goods” from Ooltewah, Tennessee, between 2013 to 2015, and she pleaded guilty in October in U.S. District Court.
In court records, the government said King “caused fax transmissions containing false and fraudulent information” to be sent from Owensboro, but prosecutors don’t identify the goods or the nature of the fraud.
In an email, Johnson said it is troubling from a “public safety perspective” that the government let King plead guilty without disclosing details of her wrongdoing.
“If the conduct that led to her felony guilty plea also involved testosterone, this is information that would be crucial to any agency that protects the public from unscrupulous healthcare professionals,” Johnson said.
King is licensed as both a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner in Tennessee; her Kentucky licenses expired last year. Under the laws of both states, she will have to report her conviction to regulators.
U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman and Assistant U.S. Attorney Madison Sewell, who is prosecuting the case, declined to respond to questions about the plea agreement or whether King fraudulently obtained testosterone.
However, King testified in a Pate lawsuit deposition that she got her testosterone pellets from a pharmacy in Ooltewah, a Chattanooga suburb.
Caudill confirmed that his client obtained the hormone illegally but called it a “technical violation,” which he said is why prosecutors recommended probation. He said she ordered testosterone pellets for some patients who decided not to use them and gave it to other patients, which he acknowledged is illegal.
In an October 2016 complaint to the Kentucky Board of Nursing, Linda Boarman, a nurse practitioner who worked for Dr. Randall King, said that King used her husband’s DEA number to order testosterone pellets. She also alleged King routinely ordered pellets in the name of patients and friends who never intended to use them.
Another employee, Leighann Decker, who worked for Randall King as an ultrasound technician, also told police that Karla was fraudulently ordering testosterone, according to a police report. Boarman and Decker declined to respond to questions from the Courier-Journal.
Nurse practitioners are barred from stockpiling testosterone and other controlled substances, according to Morgan Ransdell, the nursing board’s general counsel.
The board told Boarman in a letter that it found insufficient evidence to initiate formal disciplinary action on the matter.
However, it found that King wrote a dozen prescriptions in violation of the law because they exceeded a 30-day limit. In a letter to the board, King attributed the error to “good-faith misunderstanding” of the law and promised to become fully compliant.
King will be sentenced in the fraud case on Jan. 24 by Chief Judge Joseph H. McKinley Jr., in Owensboro. The government has recommended probation.