Bizarre ‘frog therapy’ leads to woman’s death
It was meant to be a natural cleansing therapy using alternative medicine extracted from a rainforest frog to revitalise the mind and body.
But when Natasha Lechner underwent a "kambo ceremony" earlier this month something went terribly wrong, causing her to have a heart attack that cost her life.
The ceremony involves taking kambo, a secretion from a green tree frog found in the Amazon, and placing it on small burns on a person's skin.
Promoted as a spiritual and emotional cleanse, kambo is usually administered in circles and leaves users purging toxins.
On March 8, Ms Lechner, 39, took part in a ceremony with at least one other person at her home in Mullumbimby, in northern NSW.
Once the ritual finished, another participant realised Ms Lechner had passed out and her skin was cold.
An ambulance was called but by the time paramedics arrived at 11.15am, she had gone into cardiac arrest and couldn't be revived.
While Ms Lechner trained as a kambo practitioner in January, on this occasion she was on the receiving end.
Her twin brother Christian Lechner said his sister had ongoing back pain from her 20 years as a hairdresser and that had led her on a path to find alternative pain killers apart from opioids.
Describing Ms Lechner "kind, strong and sincere" and "the best sister I could have hoped for", he did not want to speculate on how she died but said it was "her ritual administration and a conscious decision".
Mr Lechner, a tattoo artist in their hometown in Wollongong, said: "I've met with the coroner and he will tell me what happened.
"She was in a ceremony but that was just the beginning. I want to know and get to the bottom of what happened.
"She was a hairdresser for 20 years and had sciatica and crushed vertebrae and often cried in pain and she needed back surgery and high doses of pain killers.
"I think she went on a path and began to search for more biologically friendly medicines."
Ms Lechner, who was drawn to crystals as a 10-year-old after reading Roald Dahl's The Witches, moved to the Byron Shire about seven years ago.
Mr Lechner said: "I've come up here to Mullumbimby and in the last three days I've had to tell her mother she has lost a daughter and a father he has lost a daughter, witnessed the place where my twin sister passed, packed up all her belongings with my own hands, navigate the gossip and give a police statement and begin to arrange a funeral."
The International Association of Kambo Practitioners said it was aware of five deaths around the world after kambo treatment in the past 30 years. Spokeswoman Sophie Perkins said all but one of those deaths was due to inappropriate water consumption or a lack of understanding about pre-existing health conditions.
Conditions like heart problems, epilepsy or undergoing chemotherapy can make people unsuitable for kambo.
I think she went on a path and began to search for more biologically friendly medicines
Ms Lechner completed a training program in January but had used kambo regularly for the past four years.
"At the training she did not disclose any health issues of any concern and during our health and safety session, her blood pressure was assessed to be within the normal range," Ms Perkins said.
"During the two weeks, no one saw anything that would give any cause for concern."
Ms Perkins claimed the person who administered kambo to Ms Lechner was not a IAKP practitioner.
University of Technology Sydney Public Health Associate Professor Jon Wardle said people with heart conditions were very susceptible to even minor toxins.
"That is a danger if someone does have a heart condition and they don't know about it," he said.
Kambo has exploded in popularity in recent years and according to IAKP's website, Australia has the third-largest number of practitioners in the world behind the US and the UK.
Tweed Byron Police crime manager Detective Inspector Brendon Cullen confirmed the Kambo ceremony was one aspect police would investigate and report to the coroner.