TAMPA — The 3-year-old boy caught in a legal tug of war over how he will be treated for leukemia will be turned over to the custody of his maternal grandparents, a judge ruled Thursday.
Noah McAdams, 3, was tracked down Monday in Kentucky, after his parents refused additional chemotherapy treatment for his acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, and instead fled Tampa.
The parents, Joshua McAdams and Taylor Bland-Ball, failed to show up for the boy's scheduled chemotherapy treatment at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. To keep him out of the hospital, they decided to treat his cancer with natural remedies and fled the state, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
That led Florida authorities to issue an endangered child alert on Monday. Hours later, the family was tracked down to a motel room in Georgetown, Ky.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Endangered 3-year-old who needs medical treatment found in Kentucky
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Lisa Campbell ruled Thursday that Noah will go home with his maternal grandparents while she decides how his cancer will be treated. The boy is currently at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. When doctors decided to release him, he'll go home with the grandparents.
But the case is far from over and Noah will not yet resume treatment.
The judge must also decide whether the parents were within their rights to decline chemotherapy. To prepare for that hearing, the parents' lawyer will have a doctor he found examine the child and give a second opinion as to the best treatment option for Noah. That will lead to another court hearing.
Before Thursday's hearing started, the 23-year-old mother brought photos of her brown-eyed, blonde-haired child and laid them out on a courtroom table. She said she was sending a silent message to the judge, social workers and child protective investigators working on Noah's case.
"I wanted (the photos) to be out when everybody was documenting, when they had the cameras going during the hearing," Bland-Ball said. "I wanted people to see, those that are watching the case and the social workers to see as well, that we're a happy family. Noah was very happy with us. He's so loved, so there's really no reason to go through all this."
The boy was first diagnosed with leukemia by Johns Hopkins doctors on April 4, the mother said, after his parents took him from one emergency room to another in an attempt to find what had suddenly made him "sluggish" and "not himself."
At first, Bland-Ball and her husband, Joshua McAdams, agreed that Noah should undergo chemotherapy treatments at the hospital, they told the judge. But after about 10 days there, the boy's father said they became worried about their son's care and told staff they were going to seek a second medical opinion.
"The hospital's governing body was disorganized and the doctors were not pleasant or professional to us," McAdams, 28, testified. "It seemed like doctors were disappearing on us and just passing down Noah's information second hand ...
"There was intimidation from social workers who looked at me like I was not interested in my son's health because I didn't want to give my son chocolate milk, or pudding, or ice cream. I care for my son and it's very important that we watch what he eats."
The father said his wife contacted Johns Hopkins multiple times about their concerns. Then last week she told doctors they had had enough. Noah would no longer go to his scheduled chemotherapy appointments. The family set out for Ohio, where Bland-Ball said she had arranged for Noah to see a doctor who would provide alternative treatments.
"We have phone records we have voicemails we left for them and we even spoke to the social worker the physicians assistant and the doctor to tell them we were seeking a second opinion," Bland-Ball said.
The father testified that the couple had already started treating Noah with CBD oil, fresh foods and clean alkaline water.
But Dr. Bijal D. Shah, head of the Moffitt Cancer Center's acute lymphoblastic leukemia program, told the Tampa Bay Times this week that natural remedies do nothing.
In fact, he said the accepted medical treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia has become very effective. The cure rate is up to 90 percent, though it does require a patient to endure 2½ years of chemotherapy and the resulting side effects.
Kentucky authorities found the family Monday evening. They took Noah to a local hospital for treatment, then put him on a plane back to Tampa. His parents are now the subject of an investigation into criminal charges of medical neglect for refusing proper medical treatment for a child considered to be "gravely ill."
During the hearing, a child protective investigators testified that she left voicemails and a Facebook message for the parents to tell them that they were under investigation. But the parents testified they never got those messages.
The couple's lawyer, Michael Minardi, said a blood test taken Wednesday showed no trace of leukemia in Noah's blood.
"I know a doctor's not going to come back and say that chemotherapy is the best option and is the only treatment for him," the lawyer said, "and I think that's the problem we have in this country right now is the fallacy of doctors pushing chemotherapy ... It destroys people."
But Shah told the Times that patients who stop chemotherapy early are risking their health. The cancer return almost always returns.
"I put it in the same box as those who fear vaccination," the doctor said. "The reality is, what we risk by not taking chemotherapy, just as what we risk by not taking vaccines, is much, much worse."
Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report. Contact Anastasia Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.