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Katie Goes Home
November 1, 2005 permalink
Katie Wernecke has been ordered home. But the result may not be the family victory that it appears to be, since it is conditioned on completing CPS prescribed treatment first. Since the most likely prognosis is now death, CPS may be ridding itself of an embarassment.
Oct. 31, 2005, 5:49PM
Judge orders sick teen returned to parents
CORPUS CHRISTI — A 13-year-old girl with cancer who was put into foster care after her parents refused to allow radiation treatment will be reunited with her family, a judge ruled today.
Faced with her deteriorating health, state district Judge Jack Hunter said Katie Wernecke would be better off with her family in Agua Dolce, near Corpus Christi, than in the custody of the Houston foster parents she was assigned by Child Protective Services.
He said that all sides were well intentioned but the stops, starts, and delays in Katie's treatment as grown-ups continued to battle were doing more harm than good.
"CPS and the Werneckes are never, ever going to agree," Hunter said. "If I leave it up to CPS and the Werneckes ... this child is going to die."
CPS removed Katie from her family in June after her father, Edward Wernecke, said radiation treatment could put his daughter at a heightened risk for breast cancer, stunt her growth and cause learning problems.
Katie's parents have made several attempts to stop treatment for the girl's Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes. The girl was diagnosed in January and began receiving chemotherapy, which doctors recommended be followed with radiation.
Hunter said Katie would be allowed home after she completes a current round of chemotherapy at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. It was not clear from the judge when that would be, however.
The ruling came despite objections from state lawyers who argued that Katie's life would be endangered if she did not continue to receive treatment at M.D. Anderson.
Before the ruling, Hunter told Wernecke to "look at me man to man, eyeball to eyeball" and promise he would do the best for Katie. Wernecke said he would.
CPS spokesman Aaron Reed said the agency hoped the Werneckes would continue treatment at M.D. Anderson.
"We certainly understand why the judge would want Katie at home with her family at this point of her illness," he said. "This isn't the outcome we advocated for, but our goal all along has been for Katie to get the treatment she needs and get better and go home."
Wernecke's parents were overjoyed with the judge's decision.
"The good news is we're getting Katie back," Edward Wernecke said. Her mother, Michelle Wernecke, added, "She's going to be home soon, it feels great."
In a statement, family attorney James Pikl said the decision had larger implications for parental rights in Texas.
"When your child becomes sick, you do not have to merely stand by while state CPS workers tell you what care your child will receive," he said. "You also need not fear that CPS will take your child away from you simply because you have a disagreement with CPS about what treatment is right for your child."
During today's hearing, Edward Wernecke said he wanted to try alternatives for Katie before considering radiation as a possible last resort.
"If that were her last hope and it was the only other thing that would save her life than I would do it," Wernecke testified.
Wernecke said M.D. Anderson had failed to offer alternatives that would spare Katie the side effects of the treatment recommended by doctors.
Wernecke said he might consider radiation, but wanted to first try intravenous vitamin C at a treatment center in Kansas. He said he had also researched treatments in Germany, Mexico, and other places.
Katie's oncologist has said her chances of surviving have gone from 80 percent to 20-25 percent because of incomplete treatment.
Hunter was the third judge to hear the case. The previous judge, Carl Lewis, recused himself after the Texas Supreme Court overturned parts of his ruling barring contact between Katie and her father. Another judge was removed from the case after objections were raised by CPS attorneys.
Source: Houston Chronicle
Addendum: Katie went home to her parents on Thursday, November 3, 2005.