In 1993, when she was 5-years old, Alyssa A. was diagnosed with anaplastic ependymoma. She had surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. As a result of conventional treatment, she had, according to her mother, no evidence of disease until January of 1997. She did, however, have slight facial paralysis damage to the pituitary gland from the treatment. The side effects of conventional treatment can be awful, make no mistake.
The tumor started growing again, and the family, according to a Riverside Press-Enterprise article from 15 February 1997, decided to forego a second surgery. By this time they had decided to go to Burzynski. According to the reporter, who was I’m sure trying to help:
Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski of Houston uses fluids that occur naturally in human blood and urine to treat cancer and the treatment reportedly has none of the side effects of chemotherapy.
By reportedly, they most likely mean, the family reported it. Burzynski’s own informed consent disclaimer (and the long record of testimony here) clearly demonstrates that the treatment can have awful side effects. According to Burzynski:
But other than that….totally safe? Not a chance. According to the same article:
Family and friends are helping [Alyssa’s family] raise the $16,000 for Alyssa’s treatment by holding a car wash and bake sale at the Harvest Christian Fellowship Church today. Right now Alyssa’s tumor is the size of a green pea. If it grows larger than 2 inches before the [they] raise the money, Alyssa will be excluded from the clinical trials, [her mother] said.
That $16,000 is likely the startup fee for the antineoplaston treatment at that time. In this article, they make no mention of the vast sums that Burzynski typically extracts from people who stay on his therapy for months. They raise $3000 in a few weeks, but then another appeal appears in the same paper of 22 Feb:
[Alyssa’s mom] said the therapy could cost as much as $40,000. The initial therapy, she said, costs $16,000 and followup treatments that cost $2,000 per month can run four months to one year, depending on the complexity of Alyssa’s case.
There is scant info about what happens when they go to Burzynski. What we know comes from 2 posts a cancer board hosted by MIT, after Alyssa was off treatment and had at least 2 tumors. On 23 July 1998, the Alyssa’s mother told another person looking into treatments:
Jessica, my name is […] and I have a daughter named Alyssa who has also been to the Burzynski Inst. for antineoplastons my daughter also had problems on the therapy. Alyssa had seizures and went into a coma for three days, but her tumor was shrinking in any event we discontinued that treatment.
How did this happen? We find out in a post from 1 Aug 1998:
I infused her with antineoplastons for ten months with good results. We still owe the man $98K, but after they pushed me to raise the dose of A10 to 200cc, she had seizures and we almost lost her. I did acquire [an] oral form [likely sodium phenylbutrate, which Burzynski also sells and which is the prodrug for ANP] from a patient that did not survive and she is on a safe dose. I have enough to get the job done this time. They are charging ancillary charges but not providing the care. I would not go to Houston again.
So, an overdose that may have put her into a coma for 3 days. Burzynski has historically had a problem not only with overdoses, but also with reporting them and preventing future ones from happening, at least according to the FDA, who during a recent site review found:
- Burzynski did not report all adverse events as required by his study protocols. One patient had 12 events of hypernatremia (high sodium), none of which was reported. There are several similar patients.
- The FDA told Burzynski: “You failed to protect the rights, safety, and welfare of subjects under your care. Forty-eight (48) subjects experienced 102 investigational overdoses between January 1, 2005 and February 22, 2013, according to the [trial number redacted] List of Hospitalizations/SAE (serious adverse events) [redacted]/ Overdose [redacted]/Catheter Infection report. Overdose incidents have been reported to you [….] There is no documentation to show that you have implemented corrective actions during this time period to ensure the safety and welfare of subjects.” [emphasis added] It seems that these overdoses are related to the protocol, which requires family members to administer the drugs via programmable pump on their own. Further, patient records show that there were many more overdoses that were not included in the Hospitalization/SAE/Overdose list.
Poor Alyssa may probably be counted among those patients whose overdose, in her case in 1997, should have triggered changes to the protocol to prevent other patients from “almost losing” their children. But he could not demonstrate that he ever did, and the human wastage piled up until 2013 as the FDA, inexplicably, watched. ONE patient overdose should have triggered these protections.
Not only that, but if the family actually thought that the treatment could “cost up to $40,000,” like they told the newspapers, how could they possibly have had informed consent of the costs?
Alyssa died on 1 March 1999.
What is baffling, however, is how Alyssa’s mom’s memory absolutely does not square with all the press coverage of her daughter’s case. In July of 2014, when the FDA waffled and allowed desperate patients–mostly children–to die on Burzynski’s drug, Alyssa’s mom appeared on facebook extolling the benefits of ANP:
Non-toxic? By her own account, Burzynski’s drugs nearly killed her daughter. And she does not seem to remember that, even though there were some bad side effects, due to conventional treatment Alyssa was lived for years with no evidence of disease until the relapse. This is simply another example of how anecdotes should not be used as evidence of efficacy. People make mistakes.
h/t to the research ninja