Two more tragic tales of Burzynski patients

One of my newer blogging interests is the “alternative” cancer doctor named Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski. Although I had heard of him years ago, mainly in the context of his desperate patients tapping into the generosity of kind-hearted strangers to pay for his “antineoplaston” therapy, I hadn’t really written much about him until very recently. About six months ago, Burzynski came to my attention because of his clinic’s use of an Internet legal thug named Marc Stephens, who threatened skeptical bloggers with legal action after they had criticized the Burzynski Clinic and then later disavowed him in apparent embarrassment with a classic not-pology. It was at that point that I posted a trio of articles about the dubiousness and lack of science behind Burzynski’s therapy and his claims for it, starting with a deconstruction of antineoplaston therapy and Burzynski’s propaganda movie, then moving on to a discussion of why his “personalized gene-targeted cancer therapy” is basically “Personalized Medicine for Dummies” incompetently administered with an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to highly expensive targeted therapies mixed with chemotherapy, and finishing with how Burzynski has gravitated to overselling an orphan drug that shows mild promise in some cancers because it is a prodrug for one of his antineoplastons.

One thing I had been looking forward to after focusing my attention on Burzynski was his hearing before the Texas Medical Board. It was originally apparently scheduled for January 2012, but then apparently delayed to April 11, 2012. Unfortunately, it’s been delayed again. Although it looked as though Burzynski might slither away from justice again, what I’ve learned is that there has simply been a continuance. There will be more legal wrangling, and eventually there will be a hearing. It can’t come too soon, but unfortunately Burzynski continues to practice during the months of delay.

The thing that bothers me the most about Burzynski is how he offers false hope to patients with terminal cancer at a cost of tens–or, commonly, hundreds–of thousands of dollars. He offers his antineoplaston therapy under the auspices of clinical trials, but then requires that the patient pay exorbitant sums of money for drugs and treatments, even though requiring patients to pay to be in clinical trials is considered dubious at best and highly unethical at worst. These patients, desperate to grasp at what they perceive to be their last chance to live, then do all sorts of desperate things to raise the money, often including all sorts of fundraisers. Indeed, what piqued my interest was the reaction to the case of Billie Bainbridge, who raised loads of cash because various British celebrities took an interest in her case and participated in concerts for her charity. Meanwhile, Burzynski claims that he has higher success rates than conventional medicine, that he doesn’t use chemotherapy (he does), and that his therapy is nontoxic (it isn’t; it’s quite toxic), selling it through interviews with credulous quackery promoters like Suzanne Somers. Elsewhere, on various patient discussion forums, Burzynski shills make it sound as though Burzynski is the only one who can save patients with stage IV cancer.

He ain’t, and he can’t.

As a reminder of this, I take note of the sad fate of someone I’ve written about before, a young woman named Kelli Richmond. Unfortunately, Ms. Richmond passed away a week ago:

For more than a year, Kelli Richmond shared her journey battling stage 3 ovarian cancer with The Advocate’s readers. On Wednesday, she lost that battle at the age of 30 with her family at her side.

Richmond’s faith was part of the armor she donned for this battle.

The news story, surprisingly, is fairly blunt:

One month after celebrating her 30th birthday this past January, a scan revealed more cancer. Her doctors gave her the news that the cancer was untreatable. Unwilling to admit defeat, Richmond sought holistic treatment at the Burzynski Clinic in Houston. It proved a futile effort.

Unfortunately, Ms. Richmond was one of Burzynski’s patients who was desperately trying to raise $50,000 for treatment at the Burzynski Clinic. It’s truly sad to think that Ms. Richmond spent so much of her short time furiously scrambling for cash for a therapy that was almost certainly useless.

Similarly, there is child named Olivia Bianco whose parents chose Burzynski and have been raising money to take her to the Burzynski Clinic, producing this glowing report:

After spending five weeks in Houston at the Burzynski Clinic, training my parents how to administer this new antineoplaston IV treatment, I am now home on Maui. I am hooked up to this IV pump twenty-two hours a day seven days a week but at least I can continue this treatment at home with my family, friends and puppy Snowball here in paradise. I am happy to report that everyday I am getting stronger and my speech is coming back. And yes, I am able to tell my parents I love them, many times everyday and that makes them sooo happy. I’m not stopping there though, I plan on walking again in due time and I can’t wait to return to school. I’m going to beat this dreadful disease called cancer. I will NEVER EVER GIVE UP!

My parents tell me I am going to be that little miracle girl and they can’t wait to take me back and show those doctors to see the looks on their faces and watch them shake their heads in disbelief. If you would like to be a part of TEAM OLIVIA and this miracle any donations would be greatly appreciated. Unfortunately Kaiser will not cover any of these medical costs because they are considered alternative treatments, which they do not recognize. All of my current treatments will be out of pocket, totaling approximately $10,000 per month. $7,600 per month for the clinic and additional lab work three times a week, monthly private doctors exams and any diagnostics needed. Please please pray hard for my healing because I know all the prayers are helping. There is nothing stronger than the power of prayer. I can’t wait to meet you all someday. Thank you and God bless.

That was the hope. This is the reality:

On behalf of Olivia Bianco and her family, we wanted to take the time to say mahalo for your support over the past year and to update you on Olivia’s health during her battle with brain cancer.

Olivia was diagnosed last February with Medulloblastoma and was treated for four months in Santa Clara, California. She was able to come home to Maui in July for Home Hospice. Her family decided to try some alternative treatment with Dr. Burzynski in Houston, Texas. Olivia was getting stronger, taller and her speech was improving. She is such a joy to be around! We all knew she was going to defeat the odds and beat this ugly cancer.

In February, Olivia had an additional MRI, and the results were not as we hoped or expected. The cancer had spread pretty drastically. Both the doctors at Kaiser and Dr. Burzynski concurred to discontinue treatment to allow Olivia to not be attached to tubes and IVs and just enjoy her life. Olivia and her family have been doing just that.

Later in the letter, the Biancos write:

Both Momoko and Alex have again taken a leave of absence from work and are spending all their time caring for Olivia. This is basically financially impossible without friends and the community pitching in. So, we are humbly seeking additional donations to assist Olivia and her family, so they can spend this time with their daughter. Monetary donations can be made payable to Alex Bianco and sent to: Friends of Olivia Bianco, P.O. Box 12661, Lahaina, HI 96761.

It’s a shame that all that money the Biancos raised before went into the black hole that is the Burzynski Clinic, all to no effect on the ultimate sad outcome. They could have used that money now, near the end, when Olivia needs them the most. That is but one of the costs and consequences of Burzynski’s activities. I can only hope that people still have sympathy and are willing to donate; a dying little girl needs her parents by her. My only surprise here is that apparently Burzynski showed a modicum of humanity here and admitted defeat. His usual pattern is to make claims that the tumor’s increase in size means that the therapy was working because the tumor is “swelling” while the person undergoing treatment suffers significant side effects.

I also have to wonder how long Kelli Richmond and Olivia Bianco will be used as post-mortem ads for the “success” of Burzynski’s antineoplaston therapy.