Cannabis Versus Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: Go Team Logan!

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It’s one of the worst nightmares any parent can imagine. You take your healthy son to the doctor shortly after his first birthday. He’s not very sick, but a few of his symptoms are troubling. They do preliminary bloodwork and then admit him to the hospital right away, informing you that there were “blasts” in his blood and more tests are needed immediately. Having only had one, until now healthy, child, the word “blasts” means nothing more than “something major could be wrong with my son.”

For Kimberly Ewell, that nightmare has been her reality for the last five years. Her son, Logan, was diagnosed with B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia shortly after his first birthday, and his entire life has been a series of invasive, damaging, and in the end, ineffective medical treatments designed to kill the cancer eating away at his little body. B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most common childhood form of leukemia, and it’s considered aggressive and fast-spreading.

Logan ChemoThe “blasts” doctors were seeing in test results are lymphoblasts, immature white blood cells that typically are only present in the bone marrow. In B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, these cells proliferate throughout the body, spreading the leukemia to other systems and organs as the blasts reproduce. He began treatment at a hospital more than an hour away from his home. Treatment in the Lansing hospital commenced shortly after his diagnosis on April 16, 2009.

That treatment consisted of ongoing chemotherapy treatments for two years. At first, the lymphoblasts were only present in his blood and bone marrow, so more aggressive therapy wasn’t needed. During that time, Logan became a big brother to his sister, Madison. Things seemed positive and hopeful for their family, despite the battle against cancer. That changed in March, 2011, when Logan relapsed despite his ongoing chemotherapy. This time the tests were showing lymphoblasts in his spinal fluid as well, so doctors increased his chemotherapy and added radiation treatments to his regiment. As time progressed, the additional therapies proved ineffective as well.

The strain of the medical bills, the appointments, the effects of Logan’s medical treatment on his mood and behavior, and the crushing anxiety that go along with having a seriously ill child took their toll, and Logan’s parents separated and divorced. During what was already a very hard time for Kim, Logan, and Madison, this little family had to lean on one another and Kim’s mother for support.

logan11Logan relapsed for the second time in June, 2013. At first, the only sign was that his hips hurt, which made him not want to walk. Kim knew not to mess around, however, and Logan was taken to the doctor. This time, his doctors sent him to Mott’s Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, which is associated with the University of Michigan and is considered one of the best pediatric medical facilities in the country. Kim rented a small apartment in Ann Arbor because Logan required 24/7 medical care and advocacy. This meant that her daughter had to stay in Mount Pleasant with Kim’s mother. However, Kim loves Logan and has always been willing to do whatever is necessary for his recovery. She’s very grateful she has had the support to be there for him.

Logan was admitted to Mott’s Children’s Hospital in October and received a bone marrow transplant. Everyone was hopeful but initial tests were not promising. On January 13th of this year, doctors at the University of Michigan told Kim that Logan, now five years old, had no more options. The transplant hadn’t worked, and there didn’t seem to be any donor blood in Logan’s system. After all of those painful, draining medical procedures, the best pediatric cancer doctors in the state of Michigan (arguably some of the best in the nation) were admitting defeat. They were discharging Logan and advising his family to seek out hospice care for end of life (palliative) care for the next three to twelve months.

Of course, both Logan and his mother have much more fight in them than that. Kim didn’t go home and began preparing for her son to die; she reached out to a stranger, desperate for any sort of help. Someone had mentioned cannabis oil to her previously, but it hadn’t seemed like a real option for Logan until that day in January when the doctors gave up. Suddenly it was the only treatment left available for Logan, and Kim wasted no time. The same day that Logan was discharged, Kim cleared out the small apartment in Ann Arbor they kept for while Logan was in the U of M hospital, drove two hours home, and then drove hours again to meet with an oil-maker.

Logan and MadisonThis man, a medical marijuana caregiver legally registered in Michigan, has been making concentrated cannabis oil for some time, and a friend of Kim’s had given her his name. Despite the legal risks involved, this caregiver met with Kim and Logan the same day she contacted him on Facebook and sent them home with medicine.

Of course, the medicine didn’t come until after Kim and the oil-maker had spoken for several hours about Logan’s condition and the treatments he had received. The oil-maker provided some standard concentrated cannabis oil.

Kim was incredibly nervous about dosing her already sick son with cannabis oil, so she started with a small dose. Despite the fact that she only gave Logan 0.025 grams mixed in with a pudding, he slept for 28 hours after that first dose. Thankfully, between what the oil-maker had told her and what she’d read online, Kim was at least prepared for Logan’s extremely sleepy state. Still, she felt her risk-taking had been vindicated when, four days later, Logan’s bloodwork showed a drop in lymphoblasts. In fact, there had been an eight percent drop by volume of lymphoblasts in his blood.

LoganSmileEncouraged, Kim continued her cannabis treatments, working Logan up to 0.05 grams of cannabis oil per day, still a very low dose. Unfortunately, the next round of blood work showed that Logan’s lymphoblast counts were back up. Kim had been reading about cannabis oils, so she knew the logical next step. She worked with her oil-maker to obtain stronger oil. The oil they switched to was seven times more concentrated than the previous kind. Within four days of treatment with the stronger oil, Logan’s “blasts” began dropping again. However, it began to look like he was suffering graft-versus-host disease, so he was hospitalized on January 28th, 2014.

In graft-versus-host disease, the transplanted tissue begins to recognize the host as foreign, and its white blood cells attack otherwise healthy tissue. Logan was prescribed a powerful steroid to help combat the symptoms of this condition. When he was hospitalized on January 28th, Logan was receiving 0.6 grams per day. During his time in the hospital, his dose was increased to 2 grams a day. The lymphoblast counts in his bloodwork began going down immediately.

It’s sad to say, but Kim fought with Logan’s doctors because they didn’t think she should be administering cannabis despite their own decisions to cease treating him. Kim, however, felt like she was doing the right thing for her son for the first time in years. During the endless weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, which left Logan weak and in pain, she would agonize. Was she making the right choice in putting her son through this? What other options did she have? She says she always regretted the chemo but sincerely thought it was Logan’s only choice.

Logan 2Doctors became concerned about the cannabis treatment when Logan’s liver enzymes increased during his hospitalization. The idea was posited that the increase was due to the solvent used in the concentration process: specifically medical-grade 99% Isopropyl alcohol. Although tests results showed no contamination or residual solvent, the oil-maker working with Kim and Logan changed his process to use 190-proof grain alcohol instead. This switch resulted in a decrease in yield of about 25% and a 5-10% decrease in potency when comparing concentrates from the same plant material. Whether the solvent was to blame or not, Logan’s liver emzymes slowly normalized after the switch, with more recent labs showing one within healthy range and another much closer to a healthy level. Although Kim is now working with a new oil-maker, they don’t dare switch back.

Kim is certain that she is doing the right thing. Logan’s response to the cannabis oil makes her very confident in her decision, something Kim had never experienced in all his years on chemotherapy. Her confidence was vindicated when he was released from the hospital without any lymphoblasts showing up in his bloodwork. In the end, the doctors told her to keep doing what she was doing without acknowledging that the cannabis oil was helping or actually working with Kim and the oil-maker to refine Logan’s cannabis treatment. Luckily, Kim is her son’s best advocate, and many other people, including a nurse who worked with Logan in the hospital, pore over his lab reports each time they are posted online. Logan’s bloodwork is still being done regularly and paid for by insurance despite the order for palliative care.

Logan CarLogan’s medical insurance doesn’t cover any of the costs associated with the cannabis oil that is helping him at this time, and likely will not until federal laws change. Kim and Logan have been very lucky in that they have received great support from the area medical cannabis community. A small group of people have stepped up, donating oil, plant material, and money to help cover the expenses of Logan’s treatments. These people have become an extended part of the Ewell family; Madison even knows her brother’s medicine comes from flowers.

Children with B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia typically receive chemotherapy for three years after they begin remission, so at this time that’s the battle plan for Team Logan. His mother and oil-maker want to continue him on a high THC/moderate CBD blend for the same amount of time. At this point, he is taking 1.8 grams of the grain-alcohol extracted concentrate daily, which would run well over $50 a day on the open market. The oil Logan is using has so far been at no cost to their family, but a handful of caregivers can only donate so much flower toward concentrate, especially with the 12 plant/2.5 ounce maximums per patient in Michigan.

Logan Getting BetterLogan‘s cannabis regimen has drastically improved his quality of life. Logan‘s hair is growing in, and he has the energy and inclination to play with his sister and his friends, something that was often simply impossible when he was receiving chemotherapy. Right now, he’s happy to take showers again, something that had been a battle for over a year.

Like many boys his age, Logan is currently obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Disney Infinity. Unlike other six-year-olds,Logan is only 3’3” tall and weighs less than forty pounds. He is also still struggling with chronic graft-versus-host disease, and recently had a seasonal virus due to his compromised immune system. However, Logan is definitely feeling better. His platelets and hemoglobin are both nearing healthy levels, and his lab results continue to show that his blood is cancer free.

Before January, Logan‘s mother had only considered cannabis a recreational drug, something she’d tried in high school and hadn’t cared for very much. Now, however, Kim views cannabis as a medical option that should have been presented to her well before the doctors gave up on her son and the possibility of his recovery.

You can help Team Logan keep fighting by following the link below and donating to their funding site.  All funds raised go directly to Logan’s care. If you are unable to donate financially, you can also help by sharing Logan’s inspirational story with others. Kim hopes that Logan’s story will help other parents struggling with lymphoblastic leukemia understand that cannabis concentrate may be an effective treatment option. We’ll be following Logan’s progress as he continues his cannabis regimen and will be updating readers on his condition. Everyone here at Ladybud is rooting for Logan and his loving family.

Go team Logan!