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Tampa firm's $125,000 'meditation chamber' has a controversial past

TAMPA — The makers of the Light Portal meditation chamber have made some robust claims about the benefit of using a device that plays music and shines colored lights on users who lie inside.

It rejuvenates business executives, allowing them to perform better in the corporate world. It allows the user to clear away bad memories in much the same way as a psychotherapist. One claim boasts that four sessions in the chamber took a woman's thoughts off of killing her family.

"The last session she came in and she had bought us all flowers," said Dr. Valerie Donaldson, director of applied research at Light Portal Technologies, the Tampa company that makes the chamber. "She said, 'I want you to know that I don't want to kill my husband and kids anymore.' She was a totally different person."

Light Portal earlier this month announced in a news release its intent to market the $125,000 device to business executives or their companies to help alleviate workplace stress. The release said the device "allows the stressed-out professional to access previously unknown reservoirs of energy, stamina, talent and sensory awareness."

What promotional materials don't reveal is that the device is the subject of a pending lawsuit by a Texas woman who accuses the inventor, Douglas Cornell, Donaldson and others of making unjustified medical claims about the chamber, saying it can be used to treat a long list of maladies, from blood clots and hemorrhoids to insanity and baldness.

The lawsuit, whose allegations are denied by Cornell and Donaldson, said their company did not inform her the device was not approved as a medical device by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and seeks the refund of $142,000 she paid toward the purchase of two chambers.

In fact, under pressure from the FDA, which concluded the chamber was marketed as a medical device, Cornell on Sept. 11, 2014, voluntarily recalled manuals, labels and promotional materials for the device. The company did not recall the chamber itself, and today says 12 are currently in use across the nation.

The lawsuit, filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court by Dallas-area resident Glenda Cooper, who had a company that sold customers hourlong sessions in the chamber, said Cornell's firm failed to provide her, as promised, with studies "proving the efficacy" of chambers being used "for the treatment of physical and emotional infirmities."

Cornell and Donaldson acknowledge they formerly utilized customer testimonials that made medical claims, which they said they no longer use. Donaldson said it is a good thing that the company does not promote claims that the chamber improves health.

"It's a lot easier to just have people not expect that's what's going to happen to them" when they use the chamber, she said.

• • •

The size of a large dresser, the chamber is designed for a user to lie down inside, fully enclosed, while gentle new age music pours from numerous speakers under a thin mattress. Interior lights aided by crystals surrounded by copper tubing douse the chamber in different colors. The lights and sound are coordinated to help the body release stress, said Cornell, 67.

"It's like being inside a musical instrument," he said. "You get rid of baggage. And when you get rid of baggage, you feel lighter, you feel better."

A promotional brochure says the portal takes users "to new realms and dimensions" and allows them to explore their "higher consciousness allowing (the) creation of your own pathway to meaningful life."

The lights and sounds created by the device work together in a proprietary way to tune the body and relax the brain, said Cornell, who described the experience as being somewhat spiritual.

"There are a lot of emotional issues that get resolved in here with people," Cornell said. "And when you do that then everything gets better. Your performance is better. Life is better. The sun is brighter. The colors are brighter. Your whole life just gets better and easier. So you're not efforting. You're just in a dance with life showing up and content with the way that it is."

Cornell said he could not provide the names of users of the device for privacy reasons with one exception, Berny Dohrmann, chairman of CEO Space International, which Cornell described as a Pasco-based management performance training company. Dohrmann could not be reached to comment.

But in a Light Portal news release, Dohrmann praised the meditation chamber.

"I strongly encourage CEOs to acquire Light Portal for their work spaces to advance higher personal performance and productivity, as well as enhance vital decisionmaking on a consistent basis," Dohrmann said in the release. "Results are immediate and profound."

Cornell, who said he formerly worked in a heating and air-conditioning business before retiring several years ago, said he first developed the meditation chamber in 2009 and spent about $1 million to develop it.

He said an employee for a company offering his chamber would be an especially loyal worker.

"You'd feel like family," Cornell said. "And you'd probably work harder and be more productive."

• • •

Cooper, who declined to comment, said in her lawsuit the operation manual Cornell's firm provided for the chambers "designates the different specific sound, vibrational and light settings" for the treatment of "different physical and emotional infirmities or diseases for which the patient is being treated."

The suit said Cornell's company told her at least seven physicians in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where she lived utilized sessions in the chamber for patients in their practices.

Cooper said she was told Cornell's website received eight to 10 inquiries a week from people ready to pay $800 for a chamber session, the suit alleged.

In December, the lawsuit said, Cooper agreed to buy two of the chambers for $210,000, paying a $142,000 down-payment. But Cooper said the company never disclosed to her the names of the seven physicians in her area who wanted their patients to use the device.

In March 2013, Cooper alleged one of the chambers caught fire while someone was using it, though the suit said the person inside it "was not significantly injured." The fire, she said, was caused by a defect in the chamber, though Cornell said that is not so.

Cooper said she sought a refund, but Cornell refused.

Cornell said Cooper then complained to the FDA, which sent an investigator to Cornell's Tampa office. It could not be confirmed that Cooper initiated the FDA action.

In a May 21, 2014, letter to Cornell, the FDA concluded "this product is a medical device because it is intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions or in the cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease."

The FDA told Cornell he had not received approval to market such a device in the United States, which is a violation of federal law.

Cornell then issued a voluntary recall on the labels, manuals and promotional materials for the chamber. The FDA did not require him to recall the device itself. An FDA spokesman said she could not say if the chamber can be marketed as a meditation device.

Cornell emphasized in an interview he was no longer marketing the device for medical purposes. He said his company previously made medical claims by posting online testimonials from customers who said it helped their health.

After the FDA action, Cornell said he changed the company and product name, took testimonials off his website and is now careful to only tout the device as a way to relax. He said the FDA has no problem with that.

"They're cool with it unless we say that it helped your tendinitis or, you know, it helped your headaches," Cornell said. "Then they're not cool with it."

After sending a news release to the Tampa Bay Times promoting the Light Portal and seeking to arrange an interview, Cornell and other company representatives vehemently protested the newspaper mentioning Cooper's lawsuit in any article.

"It's something that we don't want out there, me personally because I don't want anybody ruining what is an amazing thing, quite honestly," Donaldson said. "So I will be very upset if you write anything about" the litigation.

Among other complaints, Cornell objected after a reporter tried out the device for a few minutes to see how it worked but declined to stay inside for the recommended full hour.

Cornell said he is not trying to make money off his invention.

"It's just a matter of getting it into the workplace or the hands of the people who will use it to enhance the quality of their life," he said. "We'd like to get it out to the world. … The more people that use something like this to sort of get themselves grounded, the better off our society is."

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com. Follow @Times_Levesque.

Tampa firm's $125,000 'meditation chamber' has a controversial past 12/24/15 [Last modified: Thursday, December 24, 2015 5:08pm]
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