Zackery F. was 4-years old when he was diagnosed with an astrocytoma, a brain tumor. Three years into Zackery’s conventional treatment, which included surgery and shunts to relieve the pressure the tumor put on his brain, he had reached the end of the road as far as surgery could go. Surgeons at UCLA said that any further debulking might leave the boy completely blind (as opposed to blind in just one eye) according to an article in the May 5, 2003 Bakersfield Californian.
Zackery’s parents had been there throughout, and according to the same article, their lives were put on hold. Neither parent worked so that they could be with their son and they had moved the family to Bakersfield, CA for treatment. After a seizure caused by a blocked shunt at the end of April 2003, doctors found that the tumors were growing again. In May 2003 the family started appearing in the papers as they tried to raise money for Burzynski. According to the paper:
Fritz’s goal is for Zackery to be treated by Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, who uses a natural peptide found in the urine and the blood, which he says reduces cancer growth and tumors.
He gives patients a manufactured form of the substance, called antineoplastons, through an infusion tube or by pills. The National Cancer Institute reported evidence of antitumor activity in the medical records of some of Burzynski’s most successful patients.
Fritz hasn’t met Burzynski, but has spoken to him and his staff by phone. Patient testimonials and secondhand information give Fritz hope about the potential benefit of Burzynski’s methods for his son.
While Burzynski is hailed as a godsend by members of the alternative medicine community, many in the mainstream don’t accept or outright reject his work.
His methods are still being studied in clinical trials.
13 years later, Burzynski’s treatment are still in clinical trials. This does not sound like the reporter actually talked to the National Cancer Institute, but maybe heard it second (or third) hand from the family. More recently, NCI has said of antineoplastons (and one must assume this is their current position):
Antineoplaston therapy has been studied as a complementary and alternative therapy for cancer. Case reports, phase I toxicity studies, and some phase II clinical studies examining the effectiveness of antineoplaston therapy have been published. For the most part, these publications have been authored by the developer of the therapy, Dr. S.R. Burzynski, in conjunction with his associates at the Burzynski Clinic. Although these studies often report remissions, other investigators have not been successful in duplicating these results. (Refer to the Human/Clinical Studies section of this summary for more information.) The evidence for use of antineoplaston therapy as a treatment for cancer is inconclusive.
Buyer beware when the drug you are taking has been administered to patients for 40 years and it is still considered “inconclusive.”
The trials that were being carried out with NCI, according to David Gorski, fell through “because of strife between the NCI and Burzynski, who viewed the NCI as trying to sabotage the trial.”
By the 28th of May, according to the Californian, the family has still not raised enough money to take Zackery to the Burzynski Clinic, though they have been working very hard to raise money in the local press and have made some progress toward buying an initial consult:
Over the past month, individuals, local businesses and organizations have donated about $8,000, hoping to help the 7-year old Lamont boy before the large tumor in his brain creates more damage.
According to the report, the initial deposit will be $18,000. Zackery’s dad projects the final cost could be $350,000. In order to attract the attention of Maury Povich, a family friend decides he is going to hitchhike to New York City.
We don’t get another report from the Californian until July 24:
Terrified that the surgery required to remove his son’s brain tumor would destroy his optical nerves, [Zackery’s dad] appealed to Kern County through the news media the past few months for funds for an alternative therapy.
Raising more than $15,000, the Lamont boy received the therapy at the Burzynski Clinic in Houston last month, but [Zackery’s dad] said it only caused his son more problems, leaving the dangerous surgery inevitable.
That was extremely fast. On August 1st, we hear:
All this, after the community raised nearly $20,000 for Zackery to receive an alternative therapy that might spare him from surgery. The alternative, provided by the Burzynski Clinic in Houston, didn’t work or didn’t work fast enough.
We only hear what happened at the Burzynski Clinic from Zachary’s father in an article from April 14, 2007 in the Bakersfield Californian:
The treatments in Texas go terribly wrong, causing Zachery’s tumor to swell and sending the boy into a coma, his father said. [Zachary’s father] uses his remaining $10,000 to rent a Lear jet and full medical staff to rush Zachery back to UCLA.
This reminds me of a number of misadventures that have been documented by those who have inspected the Clinic. I think that the most devastating one is of Burzynski patient Josiah C., who died with a sodium level of 205 (the average is around 135). There was the stroke that Burzynski patient Haley S. had in the front of her brain, which her medical team said was not associated her pontine glioma and was likely caused by Burzynski’s treatment.
We should mention that Zachary’s father is a superhero. Parents often have no choice but to become superheroes when their kids get these awful diagnoses, but Zachary’s dad saved his son’s life. Often you hear Burzynski’s few survivors say, “Well, the doctors said take my son/daughter home to die.” Then they went to Burzynski and “shazam” the patient lived. And because they repeat their stories over and over and cite one another over and over, it sounds like there are more successes than they are. It is a small, intense echo chamber.
However, in this case, the father did hear from the doctors that his son was going to die, and he got another opinion. He did due diligence and fought for his son, who survived his cancer using intense conventional therapies, surgery and chemotherapy. It was clearly not easy for them or consequence free, but Zachary’s dad gave him a life by pursuing conventional treatment.
Zachary is now 20 years old.
Special thanks to the TOBPG research ninja, who did a lot of work on this story.