- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

DALLAS — A judge in Corpus Christi ruled yesterday that a 13-year-old girl, who was taken from her parents because they opposed cancer treatment for her, will remain in state custody.

Juvenile Court Judge Carl Lewis ruled that Katie Wernecke, who has Hodgkin’s disease, will stay with Child Protective Services indefinitely. She was scheduled to receive a complete evaluation at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Katie’s parents had testified they would not interfere with the girl receiving chemotherapy treatments and radiation — as they had vigorously done previously. But the judge refused, noting that Katie’s mother had fled with the girl and Katie’s father had rejected several doctors’ findings.

“I really don’t have a parent that I can say I can return the child to without putting that child in danger of her health,” Judge Lewis said.

Katie’s father, Edward, said he had “hoped the judge would return her to our care, but I am glad that they did allow her to go to M.D. Anderson to get a full evaluation.”

He called the refusal to allow chemotherapy treatments for Katie a “misunderstanding.”

Mr. Wernecke said he feared the radiation would put Katie at a heightened risk for breast cancer, stunt her growth and cause learning problems.

State officials took custody of the teenager June 4 after receiving an anonymous report charging medical neglect.

After being told by doctors at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi that Katie’s cancer had returned and that she needed chemotherapy immediately, her parents refused.

Katie’s mother, Michelle, fled with the child when state authorities insisted chemotherapy was needed. She later was arrested at a family member’s ranch near Freer, Texas.

A lengthy court hearing on Wednesday revealed a disturbing sequence that began Jan. 7 when Katie was taken to Driscoll Hospital with what doctors described a “massive growth on her chest.” The parents told doctors they thought she had pneumonia.

Dr. Nejemie Alter, who saw Katie in the emergency room that day, said the young girl would have died had she not be treated immediately. He told the court that he was so concerned that he quickly called for a thoracic surgeon and ordered immediate chemotherapy as he stabilized Katie’s condition.

“If she had not come into the emergency room, she would have been dead within 24 hours,” Dr. Alter testified. “She was in a life-threatening situation.”

Darrell Azar, a spokesman for Child Protective Services, said Katie would remain with a foster family, but the agency would make every effort to eventually reunite her with her family.

“The department is very pleased with the ruling,” Mr. Azar said, “primarily because it’s a win for Katie. We have to do the prudent thing and make sure we see through this treatment.”

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