TAMPA — A mother and father who refuse to treat their son's leukemia with chemotherapy say they want to use medical marijuana instead, but it remained unclear Tuesday whether a judge will allow that.
Joshua McAdams and Taylor Bland-Ball appeared Tuesday in a Tampa courtroom to fight the state's efforts to require chemotherapy for their 3-year-old son Noah, who was diagnosed last month with acute lymphoblastic leukemia — a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
"I feel he needs to receive the treatment that we're pushing for right away, not necessarily the chemotherapy," said Bland-Ball, 22.
The Department of Children and Families disagrees, filing a motion last week to get permission to treat Noah according to recommendations from oncologists. Documents in the case are not available because of medical privacy laws, but McAdams, 28, and Bland-Ball, 22, say the state wants to continue chemotherapy as soon as possible.
The parents are also fighting to get the boy returned to their custody. A Hillsborough circuit judge last week gave temporary custody to the state after the parents refused to bring Noah to Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg for more chemotherapy and left Florida.
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A hearing on the state's motion was held in Tampa on Tuesday over the objection of the parents' attorney, Michael Minardi, who told Circuit Judge Caroline Tesche Arkin that he wasn't given enough time to arrange for witnesses to testify. Arkin decided to go forward with the motion anyway.
What exactly happened in Courtroom 308 after that is unclear because Arkin granted a request from a guardian at litem attorney representing Noah to close the hearing to the news media. The attorney, Nancy Lawler, said this was in the boy’s best interest and will help protect his privacy.
Michael Minardi told Arkin the parents wanted the media present.
"This is another attempt by (the state) and the guardian ad litem to thwart justice, to thwart this child's ability to have his voice heard," Minardi said.
Standing in the bustling courthouse atrium after the hearing, Minardi told reporters the judge heard testimony from Dr. Johnathan Metts, an oncologist for All Children's, who testified about the side effects of the chemotherapy. Arkin then recessed until Wednesday morning.
Minardi said he is still scrambling to arrange for doctors who live out of state and even out of country to testify about the benefits of alternative treatments. He said one of the doctors created a cannabis-based pharmaceutical drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The parents on Monday saw a doctor to start the process to qualify Noah as a medical marijuana patient in Florida, Minardi said.
"Step 2 is getting this court to realize that that is a far superior treatment to chemotherapy at this point in time," he said.
Minardi said he will present studies that show cannabis causes "cell death of cancer" without the harmful side effects.
Noah has received some medical treatment but no chemotherapy since he returned to Tampa, Minardi said. He said the last check showed no leukemia in Noah's blood.
According to the parents, the boy received two rounds of chemotherapy at All Children's last month before the family decided not to continue the treatment. The Hillsborough County Child Protective Investigations Division got a court order to take Noah into custody and the Sheriff's Office put out an endangered child alert for the boy on April 29, saying the parents "refused to follow up with lifesaving medical care that the child needs."
Police tracked the family to Kentucky later that day. The parents have said they were on their way to Cincinnati to consult with a doctor there.
At a hearing last week, another Hillsborough judge agreed to let the boy stay with his maternal grandparents in Wesley Chapel until the case is resolved.
Bland-Ball and McAdams visited with their son on Monday at the grandparents' home.
"You can tell that he's just severely traumatized by all this, by being separated from us this long," she said. "He is just so scared and just begging us, 'Please come get me, I want to be with you.'"
The type of leukemia Noah has can be cured in more than 90 percent of cases with a full regimen of chemotherapy that lasts about 2 1/2 years, Dr. Bijal D. Shah, head of the Moffitt Cancer Center’s acute lymphoblastic leukemia program, told the Tampa Bay Times last week. Shah, who has no involvement with the case, said the cancer can be present in the blood and still leave no sign. He also said other remedies are not effective.
Noah's parents insist state officials are putting their son's health at risk.
"If they would stop prolonging this, then he would be healthy," Bland-Ball said.
Contact Tony Marrero at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.