I’m having flashbacks now. I feel as though it’s 2012, and I was just in the midst of examining the Houston cancer quack known as Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski. As you recall, he’s the Polish expat doctor who discovered peptides in the blood that he dubbed “antineoplastons” and postulated to be endogenous cancer suppressors. He ultimately made them into a cancer treatment that he’s been using on patients for over 40 years now, despite never having demonstrated its efficacy or safety. Despite that, he’s become a rock star in the world of alternative cancer cures, with two propaganda movies disguised as documentaries made lionizing him as the man who can cure cancers that no one else can and a steady stream of patients paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for his treatment.
Indeed, this makes the third time in two months that I’ve written about him. Two months ago, I lamented how, once again, the Texas Medical Board had failed to strip Burzynski of his medical license (or, as I put it, Burzynski slithered away from justice once again), even though he richly deserves that and continues to represent an ongoing threat to cancer patients everywhere. Then, last week, I noted that Burzynski is back in business again, as though nothing happened when I recounted the tragic case of a British boy with an incurable tumor whose family is frantically raising money to bring him to Houston to the Burzynski Clinic for antineoplaston therapy. It was as depressing a case as I’ve ever discussed over the six years or so that I’ve been chronicling Burzynski’s “career,” and, remember, I’ve discussed the case of Amelia Saunders, whose parents were flat out lied to by Burzynski up to her death. Sadly, the last update to the story of Cristiano Sousa explains how Cancer Research UK has weighed in on Cristiano’s case, explaining how Burzynski’s antineoplastons have never been shown to be effective against cancer. Unfortunately, Cristiano’s mother Ewa Sitkowska is so far into false hope sold by Burzynski that there appears to be no coming back:
But Ewa says she has little choice but to give her son every last chance and is aware of concerns expressed about the clinic.
After the story first appeared in the Examiner, several people got in touch to say the clinic’s experimental ‘antineoplaston therapy’ cancer treatment was unproven and gave false hope to vulnerable people.
And she revealed the heartache of Cristiano telling her last year: “I don’t want to live anymore” after a particularly unpleasant bout of radiotherapy.
What parent wouldn’t feel as though her heart had been ripped out to hear her child say that? Unfortunately, that’s how Burzynski works. He exploits such feelings to sell his unproven treatments. And he’s doing it again.
Yes, he’s doing it again. He’s back in business, as though the Texas Medical Board action had never been. This time around, it’s a child named Anna Ortega:
An Arizona family is reaching out for help after their 10-year-old daughter was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and given a 0 percent chance of survival.
Anna Ortega, who has five sisters and one brother, once enjoyed soccer and playing piano competitively, but now requires help to walk. The aspiring baker and chef, who loves school because she gets to spend time with her friends, broke down in a touching video as she said she prays to live long enough to have a family of her own.
Her parents, Ted and Mindi, have traveled to Texas with Anna and her six siblings for an alternative treatment plan that will cost $200,000 over the next month and is not covered by insurance. A GoFundMe page has kept supporters updated on her condition, and Porter is hosting a massive charity auction in hopes of raising enough funds to help keep Anna alive.
Texas? Yes, it is exactly what you think. It’s Houston, and it’s Burzynski:
Unable to accept the grim prognosis for their daughter, who pens notes every week to each of her family members expressing her gratitude for their love, they took their search to Texas. On April 17, Anna and her parents met with Dr. Burzynski at his clinic in Houston to begin a strict regimen, which involves taking four medications. The family will live near The Burzynski Clinic for the next month before returning home and outsourcing the medication from various countries for a lower cost.
Outsourcing the medication from “various countries”? It sounds as though Burzynski has finally branched out and moved his manufacturing operation out of the U.S., at least in part.
Not surprisingly, the family has a GoFundMe page, where we learn:
On Friday, March 24, 2017 Anna Ortega ran over to her mom, Mindi, mid-soccer game and told her she needed to make an appointment to see an eye doctor because her eyes were getting blurry. A few days later she said she didn’t feel well and complained of double vision. Her mom picked her up from her school and noticed her eye looked like it wasn’t fully able to focus. She was immediately taken to Phoenix Children’s Hospital where she had a CT scan and MRI. They found 2 brain tumors, deep within the brain. One tumor was removed via surgery on Thursday, March 30th. The remaining tumor, as mentioned earlier, is inoperable.
Ted and Mindi need to go and find an innovative way to cure their daughter. The treatments at these facilities must be paid up front and in cash. We are asking for any help you feel you can give to bless this little girl’s life and help Ted and Mindi Ortega as they embark on this emotional and financially stressful journey. We believe in miracles. They are extremely grateful for any help you could give on Anna’s behalf.
We’ve heard this story before so many times with Burzynski that I’ve lost track of how many unfortunate children like Anna that I’ve discussed. Indeed, there’s nothing in the video included on the GoFundMe page that I haven’t seen, heard, or read about in one form or another before over the years. That doesn’t mean that the video still didn’t move me and even bring me to the edge of tears:
That’s its intent, and Anna is a lovely girl. It’s not fair that she should be facing death as she is. When she talks about the things she wants to do when she gets older at the end of the video above, I was simultaneously close to tears and angry, angry that Stanislaw Burzynski is taking advantage of the love of this family for this lovely girl to extract maximum cash out of them, all in the service of chasing false hope. You see, Anna has diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), which, unfortunately, seems to be one of the most common forms of cancer in patients whose family seeks out Burzynski.
Unfortunately, the family seems to have fallen under Burzynski’s sway, as you can see on the website set up to raise money for Anna:
April 26, 2017:
This is us with Dr. Burzynski. Ava came along to hang out with Anna and of course meet Dr. Burzynski herself. Anna got the last of her medicines today and is now officially on 5 medications. So far so good on her body responding well to them! Yay! We know that the best combination to fight this are these 5 drugs so we are hoping her body can tolerate all 5 of them. She will continue to get blood tests twice a week to make sure her levels are all good. She ended up having high levels of acid in her urine yesterday which is a good sign that her tumor is breaking down but is a bad sign in the sense that her kidneys need to start working over drive to help cleanse her body of the toxins. We are increasing every nutrition we can to help with her kidneys as well as increasing her lemon water so they can do it on their own so she won’t have to add one more medication to the list. Anna is so good and will eat anything we give her. We follow each day at the clinic by going to a juice bar where they juice fresh vegetables and fruit. We are making sure we give her the ones with the beets in it right now. Today Dr. B. told us he would like to start weening her off the steroids. We couldn’t be more excited to do that! Long term steroids cause a lot of damage. Short term it gives her a ravenous appetite, sleep problems, and irritability. Anna has been such a trooper and hasn’t acted irritated at all-which is unbelievable given the circumstances. I told her that it will be good to get her off them and she said “Mom, I can’t walk-I think I might still be a little irritated even after I get off steroids.” I laughed. She has to have someone help her to do EVERYTHING! She is so independent I’m sure it’s killing her but you wouldn’t know it. She is just so grateful that everyone is helping her. All the other girls are doing well. They are rockstars and it’s good to be together.
Wean Anna off the steroids? If there’s one thing I wouldn’t trust Burzynski to do (actually, I wouldn’t trust him to do anything more medically complex than give an aspirin, and even then I’d hesitate), it’s to wean a brain tumor patient off of her steroids. It’s not as though oncologists dose brain cancer patients with steroids willy-nilly for no reason. They do it to reduce brain swelling due to the tumor and any rsponse that the tumor has to conventional treatment. As for the five medications, I have to speculate here based on my knowledge of Burzynski. Antineoplastons are usually administered by infusion, frequently by Portacath or Hickman (long-term indwelling catheters that usually enter the subclavian or jugular veins and have to be placed surgically). So I’m not sure whether Anna’s getting antineoplastons or not. However, it does appear that she’s probably getting Burzynski’s “make it up as you go along” version of what he calls “gene-targeted therapy,” which is really just precision medicine done incompetently. In the old days, Burzynski would also make patients buy all the expensive targeted drugs from a pharmacy that he owned. I wonder if he can get away with that any more since the Texas Medical Board put his practice under scrutiny two months ago as part of its judgment against him.
No parents want to learn that their child has a uniformly deadly cancer like DIPG. Any parent, faced with that diagnosis in his child and the grim pronouncements of oncologists and surgeons, would be susceptible to a message that tells them that there might be a way to save their child. Unfortunately, in the case of Burzynski, those messages are false, and Ted and Mindi Ortega will waste the remaining time their daughter has left chasing a unicorn. They’ve already raised more than half their $200,000 goal, and a friend held a charity auction for her earlier this week, while the family posts updates on Anna’s Facebook page.
It’s a story I had hoped I wouldn’t be covering again; yet I’ve come across two patients like this in less than a month, and I know there are more out there. Burzynski is back in business, and it’s as though he never left. I’m reminded of that by these words on Anna’s GoFundMe page:
The treatments at these facilities must be paid up front and in cash.
That’s how Burzynski operates. That’s how he’s always operated. That’s how he’s operating again. The Texas Medical Board has utterly failed again, and Burzynski is partying like it’s 1999. Even worse, it’s not just UK media that’s feeding the Burzynski myth and facilitating his activities. Fox 10 in Phoenix, for instance, failed journalism in the service of a feel-good human interest story, oblivious to the true nature of the story, which is a desperate family of a dying girl being taken in by a snake oil salesman. It looks as though the ABC affiliate in Phoenix has done or will do the same. These news reports, as uplifting as they seem, are deeply irresponsible and only feed the Burzynski myth.
They also show that, as much as I had thought that the news media had learned Burzynski’s true nature over the last five years, I was wrong. The media remain as gullible as ever, willing accomplices to Burzynski’s extraction of cash from desperate families. The human altruism that leads so many to be so willing to help a girl like Anna is a beautiful thing. It never ceases to sadden and anger me to see a man like Burzynski take advantage of that glorious human trait to sell false hope to desperate families for hundreds of thousands of dollars.