After weeks of chemotherapy, 13-year-old Anthony Hernandez decided in July to take a break.
But when Anthony’s mother informed the doctor of his decision on July 1, the doctor called the Department of Family Services, and Anthony’s family became the subject of a medical neglect case, Beth Guggenmos, Anthony’s mother, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.
The Tumor In His Chest
Anthony Hernandez, of Riverton, was diagnosed May 1 with lymphoblastic leukemia, a fast-moving leukemia originating in the bone marrow. His symptoms began in March, his mother said.
“I couldn’t figure out what in the world was going on,” said Guggenmos. Anthony would lie on the floor, writhing in pain, but he didn’t have a fever, she said.
The family’s doctor in Riverton suspected that the boy was dealing with a virus.
In April, Anthony’s arms swelled. His mother took him back to the family doctor. The doctor gave Anthony an X-ray, Guggenmos recalled.
“That’s when they found the tumor in his chest,” she said . The tumor pressed on the boy’s airway and caused swelling in his arms and legs.
The family went to a children’s hospital in Salt Lake City, where Anthony received his diagnosis on May 1 and started a three-week round of chemotherapy immediately, along with bone marrow and other testing. The chemotherapy substances were injected into the boy’s spine, Guggenmos said.
The tumor went away; Anthony went into remission.
Then his doctor in Utah placed him on another four-week round of chemotherapy.
Anthony’s foot swelled and other severe side effects followed, including extreme nausea, pain, fatigue, bloating, muscle loss – all much worse than the original symptoms, his mother said.
“I can’t pinpoint a time when he said he couldn’t do this anymore, because it just felt like it was the whole thing, the whole time,” said Guggenmos.
Doctors dug bone and tissue samples from Anthony’s foot, because they believed he had a bone infection following the spinal injections and tests. He did not, but the foot surgery only made Anthony sicker, his mother said.
“Every time he’d go under, he’d get worse and worse,” said Guggenmos.
After the surgery, Guggenmos said, the family’s doctor wanted to do more lumbar spinal punctures and put Anthony on a round of intense chemotherapy, followed by two more years of chemotherapy treatment..
Guggenmos wasn’t sure if Anthony could handle it all, she said.
“I asked the doctor if we could take a break from that,” said Guggenmos. “Because he did go through some traumatic experiences.”
Anthony’s doctor disagreed with the boy’s mother.
The doctor called the Department of Family services, and DFS began investigating the family for child neglect, said Guggenmos.
Guggenmos went public, describing Anthony’s plight on Facebook and to friends.
“And we received so much support,” she said.
Although DFS conducted the investigation, it was the responsibility of Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun, to decide whether to charge the family with a crime.
“He called us and asked if he could meet with us” in mid-August, Guggenmos said. “And he told us when we got there, that he was going to dismiss the case, and that he was very sorry it went as far as it did.”
LeBrun told Beth Guggenmos and her husband Joel that they didn’t have to worry about his office charging them, although he couldn’t stop DFS from confronting the family, Guggenmos said.
LeBrun declined to comment to Cowboy State Daily.
“We found out today, DFS is going to continue on with their investigation with the medical negligence,” said Guggenmos on Tuesday. “If they find we are neglecting Anthony then Joel and I will be on a child neglect list.”
Wyoming DFS keeps a central registry of its suspects in child abuse and neglect, that outside parties such as employers and childcare facilities can reference.
It is not lawful for the agency to disclose details of its child investigations, under Wyoming’s juvenile protection laws.
‘We Will Definitely Go Back There’
The Guggenmos family hasn’t sworn off chemotherapy or mainstream medicine.
While they are taking a break to pursue naturopathic methods with a trained naturopath in Fremont County, the family still is working with the Utah hospital to monitor Anthony’s blood and symptoms.
Guggenmos said they plan to visit the Utah hospital, take regular blood draws, “and stay in touch with them.
“Because if what we’re doing is not working, then we will definitely go back there,” she said.
Hospital staff agreed to continue monitoring Anthony, Guggenmos said. And the boy’s Utah-based doctor was “very supportive of that.”
In the meantime, Anthony is on a vegan diet, intense juicing and herbal cleanses, zebrafish supplements, and other natural detoxifiers.
To his mother’s surprise, Anthony’s symptoms now do not resemble what he was enduring in March, before his diagnosis. And they’re a far cry from his symptoms while on chemotherapy, she said.
Guggenmos said Anthony remains in remission.
“He’s very happy he’s not doing chemo anymore,” she said. “He’s loving how he’s feeling. It’s been really nice to see him have energy and just be a kid again.”
Anthony bikes and swims. He’s an outdoorsman and a socialite with a few good friends, said his mother.
Guggenmos said the family’s experience this summer has been “a real eye-opener” toward how much authority medical professionals can exert over their clients.
“And it’s a shame, because I feel the trust has been breached there,” she said.