April 24, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
43°F

Where are Amish parents with sick girl? Family gone for month

Loren Genson and Nick Glunt | The Gazette

HOMER TOWNSHIP — Neither the 10-year-old daughter who was ordered by a court to continue cancer treatments against her will nor the rest of her Amish family has been seen since at least last month.

Sarah Hershberger and her parents, Andy and Anna, were not at their Homer Township farm Oct. 30, when Medina County sheriff’s deputies accompanied county Job and Family Services officials on a welfare check.

Anna and Andy Hershberger were not at their farm in Homer Township on Tuesday. The family has been engaged in a legal battle with Akron Children's Hospital over whether to use chemotherapy to treat their 10-year-old daughter Sarah's leukemia. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

County Sheriff Tom Miller said his office has no idea where the Hershbergers might be and is not actively searching for the family.

“It would take a court order for us to get involved,” Miller said, “and I’m not anticipating a court order.”

In October, an appellate court granted a request from Akron Children’s Hospital to appoint “limited guardianship” to registered nurse and attorney Maria Schimer granting Schimer the power to make medical decisions for the girl in place of her parents.

Clair Dickinson, an attorney representing Schimer, said he didn’t know the family’s whereabouts.

“All I know is that she and her parents don’t seem to be at her house,” he said.

He said the family was not present at a court hearing in October, and the last time anyone saw the family was during the summer. He said the girl received her last treatment at the hospital in June. Physicians said in court that without chemotherapy the girl would die within a year. With treatment, she has an 85 percent chance of survival.

Dickinson said there was no effort on behalf of Schimer to seek a court action to find the family or press charges against them for not providing health care. When asked if he thought court action might be taken, he said couldn’t comment.

John Oberholtzer, the Hershbergers’ attorney, said he does not know where the family is, but he’s kept in contact because of an appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn the appellate court’s ruling.

“I am certainly in contact with my client,” Oberholtzer said. “And they’re certainly knowing of what I’m doing in the case.”

Oberholtzer said he’s not sure whether the girl has sought therapy elsewhere.

A neighbor answered the door at the Hershbergers’ home Tuesday on Spencer Road and suggested speaking with Alvin Keim, a relative. Another neighbor said Keim had just left for a funeral in New York, and would not return until Thursday.

The case began in April, when Sarah was admitted to Akron Children’s Hospital with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, a rare form of cancer.

Her parents initially accepted chemotherapy for their daughter, according to court records, but stopped it once they saw the side effects it had on the girl. Instead they began using “natural” medicine — including vitamins and herbs.

The hospital responded by filing a suit in Medina County Probate Court that asked Schimer be named as the girl’s guardian. The case bounced between county and appellate courts several times before Oct. 9, when Probate Judge Kevin W. Dunn obeyed an order from the 9th District Court of Appeals to grant guardianship to Schimer.

While attorneys continue battle, the Hershbergers left their farm to seek other treatment for their daughter. David Augenstein, who publishes the online Journal of Natural Food and Health, said he had spoken to the family this month.

He said the family had left the U.S. to seek alternative treatment in late September. He said they have since returned but haven’t gone back to their farm for fear their daughter will be forced into treatment by the hospital.

“I can’t tell you where they’re at, but they’ll call periodically from an undisclosed location using someone else’s phone,” Augenstein said. “I know they are in the United States.”

Augenstein, who lives in the Canton area, said he first reached out to the family after seeing their story published in local news media.

“One of the big issues in this case is not just parental rights — not just about Sarah — but that this opens the door for these hospitals to create a lot of fear in the parents if you don’t obey their orders,” said Augenstein, who is a self-described advocate for parents’ choice in vaccinating their children.

He regularly writes and reports on parental medical choice issues in his online journal. He also serves as the co-director of the Foundations of Health Education, which has set up a fund to help the girl’s family pay for her treatments.

“This case is not just about Sarah and her cancer treatment,” he said in a press release. “It is about the right for anyone to obtain a second opinion and the freedom to choose you own medical treatments without fear of losing your child.

“It is about using the interpretation of law by powerful and profitable corporations like hospitals to force their beliefs in their expensive medical treatments on people who do not want them.”

Augenstein said he plans to follow the case pending before the state Supreme Court.

“They’re violating her constitutional rights,” he said of Akron Children’s Hospital. “It’s not really the loving, healing and caring image the hospital wants to portray.”

Representatives from Akron Children’s Hospital asked for questions in writing following phone calls on Tuesday seeking comment. As of Tuesday evening, they had not responded to emailed questions.

Reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer contributed to this story. Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.

  • Fatheroffour

    It is a shame that a family dealing with the devastation of a child having cancer would be forced into this situation by a greedy hospital and a corrupt court. This family is going to extremes to seek treatment for their child. May God be with them during this troubling time.

  • Tom

    ^ The most retarded thing I’ve heard in a long time.

  • Advocate

    This is exactly what I said would happen. The have disappeared elsewhere in the Amish community. And as I said earlier on, the hospital and the court set the precedent and the Amish will no longer be seeking medical care outside their community. I’ll give another “shame on you” to all those involved in seeking to make this little girl’s medical decisions instead of her parents (temporary or not). I wish them well and may God bless you all. Be safe.

  • MrAugie Augenstein

    Good job Loren and Nick.

  • MrAugie Augenstein

    Much more to this story from the locals. Please share this huge story and donate something to this family going through this http://journal.livingfood.us/2013/11/18/full-story-ohio-amish-girl-being-forced-into-experimental-chemotherapy-fled-u-s-for-natural-treatments-said-to-be-free-of-cancer/

  • Family Member

    Are we living in America the land of the free ? this situation is nothing that anyone in A FREE COUNTRY SHOULD HAVE TO GO THROUGH !! Its all about a big organization afraid to lose control of something that they think they can control with fear , if its not the fear of dying from cancer its fear of the legal system < well i dont think the legal system should put fear in parents that want whats best for their children !! and for the record this 10 year old Girl is one of the healthiest 10 year olds you could find ! As she is declared cancer free now for over 2 month !!

  • Veni Vidi

    This poor girl has 85% chance if she gets treated, but in the name of religious zeal and freedom she will have to die? nHer parents should be arrested, put in jail and the custody should be taken away – permanently, also for other children if they have them. They are obviously not capable of making good decisions.

  • Advocate

    To V.V., I would say it’s you and people like you that are the problem in this country. There’s this minority group of people who want to decide everything for the majority. The Amish are a religious people, living a simple life which I’m sure you don’t have a clue about. You appear to be the zealot here. We live in a free country and by living in a free country we have a right to make decisions for ourselves and our families. It’s called “Freedom of Choice”. I could go on and on but expect your brain is too thick to get the point.

  • MrAugie Augenstein
  • Autumn

    Which would be even more devastating to the child. Only a person with no healthy attachment would think a loved child would be better off torn from her parents and thrown in a system that abuses and looooooses children daily

  • OriginalMB

    How can it be? How in the world did she manage to be declared cancer free by three doctors when YOU said this other way was the “good” way. Crazy huh? I mean YOU said her 85% chance was this way. It sure is a good thing she didn’t follow your “good” advise. I would definitely pick the she is cancer free choice over the 85% chance. :|nnPlease enlighten all of us on what “good” decisions are. Apparently only YOU and child “protective” services are the only ones who know what “good” means. It IS good for people to seek natural, healthy, alternative methods to treat illnesses. It is GOOD

  • http://www.vanmeterproduction.com BillyHewitt

    Hello wake up hospitals and doctors kill 200,000+ patientsneach year by medical error, documented by 6 studies since 1998. The IHI.org studiesnof 2006 (100,000 lives campaign) and 2008 (5 million lives campaign) prove thatnhospitals and hospital doctors harm 40% of all admitted patients by killing ornmaiming them and Clinton, Bush, and Obama rewarded them with tort reform. Everynmedical doctor and nurse should have the same HOS (hours of service) law andnrandom drug tests as professional school bus drivers and truck drivers! Thesenmedical professional harmers should never be able to force a medical procedurenon any patient!

  • OriginalMB

    Thank you for sharing the updates.

  • j70141

    I bet if the same court that had forced treatment on the child had also forced the hospital to pay for that treatment themselves out of their own funds (no government grants or reimbursements), they would have dropped the case like a hot potato.

  • Lranger

    85% chance that she will survive the treatment but what organs and other parts of her body will be permanently damaged? What quality of life will she have? I would do the same thing with my kids and i don’t believe in any god. Chemo is a poison and it is unethical to poison the body to try to heal it. Its nothing more than capitalist science and that’s bad science.

  • Sandra Bilek

    I am glad this family has taken the path they have. Shame on Akron Children’s Hospital and whatever judges and courts and lawyers are supporting Akron Children’s Hospital. It would behoove all involved to RE-READ our US Constitution and Ohio Constitution. This is a very slippery path this country is going down, folks.

  • kehlenn

    I think the best thing is to have the child evaluated at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. I think they can get the care free and they have a hospital full of experts focused on the best thing for the child.