The death of an 11-year-old First Nation girl of leukemia who relapsed a few months after foregoing chemotherapy has sparked a coroner’s investigation along with grief.
Makayla Sault, Ojibwe of New Credit First Nation in Ontario, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January 2014. Twelve weeks later she stopped chemotherapy and turned to alternative and traditional aboriginal medicine, supported by her parents. Her parents blamed her January 19 death from a stroke on damage to her body resulting from the chemo.
“Chemotherapy did irreversible damage to her heart and major organs,” said Makayla’s family in a statement to the Two Row Times. “This was the cause of the stroke.”
The provincial Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario has initiated an investigation into the girl’s death, The Star reported on Wednesday January 21, a probe sparked by the involvement of Children’s Aid in the 12 months before her passing. Though Children's Aid investigated when the girl stopped her treatments, it did not intervene. The investigation results will not be made public, but if the coroner decides a public inquest is necessary, the results of that subsequent proceeding would be released, The Star said.
The case of Makayla is drawing renewed attention to that of another girl, also 11 and suffering from the same disease, who stopped chemotherapy after just 10 days last year, according to CBC News. In her case McMaster Children’s Hospital—the same place that treated Makayla—tried to get social services agency Brant Family Children’s Services to remove her from her parents. The agency declined, setting off a court battle.
In what was termed a precedent-setting decision, on November 14 Justice Gethin Edward ruled that the family had a constitutional right to choose traditional aboriginal medicine, rejecting McMaster’s attempt to force the girl back into chemo. The hospital did not appeal.
A family spokesperson on January 16 told the Two Row Times that the girl was cancer-free. Specialists said that the 10 days of chemo she had undergone before stopping treatment was most likely the cause of a remission—and that it probably would not last.
McMaster specialists had testified that the girl had a 90 to 95 percent chance of recovering with chemotherapy, but the judge went with the constitutional right of the parents to turn to other methods, rather than ruling on what would work, the Hamilton Spectator reported.
In yet another twist, both girls had been treated at the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida, which is being sued by former employees for what they claim are ethical transgressions, according to The Star.
Nevertheless First Nations leaders were supportive of the court decision, even breaking into applause in the courtroom when it was announced, according to the Hamilton Spectator.
Upon Makayla’s passing, the Chiefs of Ontario hailed her fighting spirit.
“We wish the family of Makaya and the community of New Credit First Nation our prayers in this difficult time. It is always the most difficult when we lose our young people who have yet to experience life,” Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy said in a statement. “She was full of spirit and a young warrior who fought her disease on her own terms to the very end. We hope the public respects the family’s privacy and grieving process during this sensitive time.”
Makayla was laid to rest on Friday January 23.