Family battles hospital in court over son’s cancer treatment
A Texas family here in Minnesota visiting loved ones over the holidays is now embroiled in a court fight over their parental rights of a 5-year-old son and his future cancer treatments.
“It makes me really sad that this is how we treat children and it’s wrong. And it’s not the way cancer should be treated, McKena Peck told FOX 9’s Paul Blume about her young son, Keaton, and his Leukemia diagnosis. “We didn’t know much about leukemia other than cancer. Obviously, you’re in such a shock.”
Peck and the boy’s father Troy Verm said they do not want the child going through two-plus years of chemo treatments after recent testing showed no cancer in the boy’s body, and would rather try natural remedies and medicines to fight off any return of the disease.
The medical and legal battle is currently playing out on multiple fronts — at Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis, at the Wright County courthouse in Buffalo, Minnesota, and potentially the Minnesota Court of Appeals in Saint Paul as the family’s attorney has filed an emergency appeal.
According to the parent’s account, as well as court filings reviewed by FOX 9, Keaton initially went through a first round of chemotherapy at Children’s after the sick child was rushed to the hospital in December and was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
And while seemingly effective in fighting off the cancer at the outset, his mother and father were mortified by the impact the chemo had on Keaton.
“It’s not your kid anymore,” concluded Peck. “You know, they get puffy, sunken eyes, dark circles, they lose their hair. They just sit there and stare at the wall. They don’t play with toys. They don’t want to do anything. It causes a lot of emotional differences from a kid who was a really good kid, to then have one that was just completely different for sure.”
McKena Peck, who is currently pregnant with her third child that is due any day, describes herself as a spiritualist, who believes the creator gave humans the tools to heal their own bodies.
So when Keaton’s test results reportedly came back negative for cancer after that first round of chemo, she and Verm made it clear they wanted to treat their child with natural remedies and interventions going forward.
The hospital medical team, however, insisted on a two-plus year regimen of chemo treatments to insure the hard-to-treat and potentially deadly cancer never returns.
One doctor is quoted in court papers saying, that it is “a fair assessment” to believe if the boy does not finish the treatment, then Keaton will die.
The case was then reported to Wright County Health and Human Services as the Pecks were staying with family in Otsego at the time. That prompted the county and its legal team to go to court to have the parents’ custody rights suspended, arguing “medical neglect,” that the chemo was a life-saving necessity.
“The limited case law that exists nationwide involves cases where there is active disease in a child. Where in this case, Keaton has not had any signs of active disease since his initial round of chemotherapy,” explained the family’s attorney Christina Zauhar about what makes this case unique. “Keaton belongs with his mom and dad. And in the state of Minnesota, parents are presumed fit to parent their child and to make legal decisions for their children, including medical decisions. So this case really has to do with some major American concepts that we hold really dear, including a parent’s right to have medical freedom and make medical decisions on behalf of their children.”
A Wright County judge ultimately agreed with the hospital’s medical team and the county’s concerns, ordering the child into the protective custody of his Minnesota-based grandmother. Peck and Verm are currently allowed to be around their child, but they cannot interfere with Keaton’s cancer treatments that are currently ongoing at Children’s.
“I am confident in myself. I am not confident in chemo. So that’s kind of my whole reason for this, is I am not one to look at the side effects and to blow them off. I am not one to act like it’s not going to happen to me, to my son. And, you know, he is just a kid and he has all these people choosing for him what to put in his body. And I don’t think that’s fair because I am the one who knows him best and who cares about him the most. So I know the decisions that need to be made for him,” concluded his mother.
While Wright County officials declined to comment about Keaton’s ongoing care, Children’s Minnesota provided the following statement to FOX 9: “Children’s Minnesota is committed to the health, safety and privacy of our patients and their families. As such, Children’s Minnesota does not comment on specific patients in compliance with federal health care privacy laws. Our organization is committed to putting kids first, and working with their family to develop an effective care plan.”
Keaton’s parents have said, they support ongoing testing of their son. And if and when the leukemia returns, as doctors suggest there is a high likelihood it will, then they would reassess how best to care for him. The parties are scheduled to return to a Wright County courtroom on Monday, February 13.
The family has established an online fundraiser to assist in their ongoing financial needs around the boy’s diagnosis.