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Teen cancer patient goes home

Nov. 4, 2005, 12:24AM

Teen cancer patient goes home

Possible vitamin therapy awaits girl who was embroiled in court battle

By TODD ACKERMAN
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Katie Wernecke left the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center with her parents Thursday, happily reunited after five months in the custody of the state.

The 13-year-old cancer patient had the bald pate typical of someone who had recently undergone chemotherapy but nevertheless seemed in good spirits, joking with hospital staff, commandeering a wheelchair she didn't need and urgently telling her parents it was time to go.

"I wanna go home," she said repeatedly.

She otherwise said very little, successfully dodging the media. She did acknowledge it was "exciting" to finally be going home to Corpus Christi.

Katie's release from M.D. Anderson followed state District Judge Jack Hunter's ruling Wednesday that Katie's parents, not the state, should make her medical decisions. The state had been making those decisions since Child Protective Services seized her in June, arguing that her parents' refusal to have her undergo radiation amounted to neglect.

The parents fear radiation's long-term toxic effects, such as the increased risk of breast and other cancers Katie might face. They are scheduled to go to Kansas this weekend to determine whether a nontoxic alternative, intravenous vitamin C therapy, is an option.

On Thursday, Edward and Michele Wernecke said they were thrilled just to have Katie back. They weren't expecting her to be released until, at earliest, Friday, but M.D. Anderson doctors said she was medically stable ahead of schedule.

"It'll be great to be a whole family again," said Michele Wernecke. She added that it would have been good if Katie's three brothers could have joined them at M.D. Anderson. "We're going to make up for lost time."

Edward Wernecke said Katie's final day at M.D. Anderson was "without the tension and antagonism" that had characterized relations between the family and hospital officials during Katie's five months there. He said that M.D. Anderson doctors are still interested in treating her and that he has not ruled that out.

But first the Werneckes have a consultation scheduled Monday at the Center for the Improvement of Human Functioning in Wichita, Kan., with a family-practice physician who specializes in the vitamin C therapy.

The therapy is unproven and often maligned — Dr. Linus Pauling was mocked for pushing it as a cancer cure 20 years ago, and M.D. Anderson oncologist Dr. Robert Wells referred to its "sordid" history in court two weeks ago — but it has shown promise in recent studies.

Previous studies found high doses of vitamin C weren't effective when given orally, but the new studies suggest they may be effective if delivered intravenously. National Institutes of Health researcher Dr. Mark Levine, who published some of the recent studies, has urged scientists to use "open minds" and "scientific rigor" to explore the therapy's anti-cancer potential.

If the Wichita center accepts Katie as a patient, the therapy could last anywhere from a month to a few months, said Edward Wernecke.

Despite the family's good mood Thursday, the Werneckes didn't want anyone to forget that CPS took custody of their daughter, prompting a nearly five-month court battle to get her back. In a statement, they called for the Texas Supreme Court to set rules and guidelines so other families don't find themselves in the same position.

They said they plan to go back to the Texas Supreme Court and ask that an earlier ruling that they neglected their daughter be reversed.

M.D. Anderson officials declined to comment, citing patient privacy laws.

todd.ackerman@chron.com 

Source: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/3437867