A Florida toddler with cancer is in state custody after his parents failed to bring him to scheduled chemotherapy appointments while they were pursuing other treatment options.
According to doctors, there are simply no other viable options for their child's care.
Noah is the 3-year-old child of Joshua McAdams and Taylor Bland-Ball. In April, Noah was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
He underwent two rounds of chemotherapy at the hospital, and blood tests didn't show any signs of cancer, the parents said. According to court testimony and social media posts, the couple were also giving Noah homeopathic treatments such as CBD oil, alkaline water, mushroom tea, and herbal extracts, and making changes to his diet.
When Noah and his parents failed to show up to a third round of chemotherapy, police sounded the alarm, releasing an alert for a "missing endangered child."
"On April 22, 2019, the parents failed to bring in the child to a medically necessary hospital procedure," said a release from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
"The parents have further refused to follow up with the life saving medical care the child needs."
McAdams, Bland-Ball, and Noah were soon located in Kentucky and the child was removed from their custody. They're now potentially facing child neglect charges. Noah is with his maternal grandmother and can only be seen by his parents with permission from child protective services.
As the parents fight to regain custody of Noah, the case is raising questions about what right parents have to determine medical treatment when it flies in the face of doctors' advice.
The Florida Freedom Alliance has been speaking on behalf of the couple. The group's vice president of public relations, Caitlyn Neff, told BuzzFeed News the organization stands for religious, medical, and personal freedoms. In the past, the group has staged rallies opposing mandatory vaccinations.
Neff said McAdams and Bland-Ball have been mischaracterized by the police and the state.
"They basically put them out to the public as if they were on the run, when that wasn’t the case at all," she said.
Neff told BuzzFeed News that the parents were up front and told the hospital that they were stopping chemotherapy in order to pursue a second opinion on Noah's treatment.
However, according to doctors who haven't treated Noah but spoke to BuzzFeed News, a full course of chemotherapy is the only know option for treating acute lymphoblastic leukemia, backed by decades of research and clinical results.
Dr. Michael Nieder of Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida specializes in treating children with leukemia. He said acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in children, but has a 90% cure rate for those who follow the common treatment plan of up to two and a half years of chemotherapy.
"When you have a standard to care you don’t want to try to devise a new therapy that results in fewer patients actually being cured," he said.
Noah was scheduled for chemotherapy treatment on Tuesday and had been receiving pretreatment steroids, said Neff, though it's unclear if he was able to undergo it.
The parents are also fighting for a bone marrow test that would further show if Noah is in remission, said Neff.
Dr. Bijal Shah leads the acute lymphoblastic leukemia program at the Moffitt Cancer Center and said that just because a cancer becomes undetectable, doesn't mean it's cured. Remission means it could still come back — and stopping therapy early, such as in Noah's case, increases the risk of new cancer cells forming, spreading, and being resistant once treatment begins again.
"It’s going to be almost universal that the leukemia will come back," he said.
He also said he's seen zero evidence that homeopathic treatments, like Noah has been receiving, do anything at all.
"I’ve seen [patients] try to do vitamin C therapy, silver therapy, marijuana, stem cell therapy in Mexico, blue-green algae, sugar-free diets, you name it. This has never worked for my patients," said Shah.
"If you know you have effective therapy that’s going to cure 90% of your patients, would you really want to chance it on something that has a giant question mark?"
Bland-Ball has continued to post updates on her case on her Facebook page, with videos and blog posts urging authorities to allow her son to be returned to her care. She and her husband have also shared their thoughts on the case on Medium.
Neff blamed doctors and officials for prolonging Noah's situation.
"This is a time crunch and I think some of these people are forgetting that in the center of this is a 3-year-old little boy who is suffering right now," said Neff.
"All Taylor and Josh want for him is to be taken are of. It’s kind of unfortunate that the hospital and the government are trying to prolong this even more."
Shah also said Noah's case is unfortunate — not only is he a victim of cancer, but his case is playing out in the media.
"No one wants to separate the child from the family — there’s not a single bone in my body that wants that," he said.
"We’re trying to communicate an understanding, with this therapy he has a chance to live, a real chance."