Police search for child removed from cancer ward

Dec. 3, 2012 at 10:24 AM ET

Authorities searching for an 11-year-old cancer patient whose mother sneaked her out of a Phoenix hospital say the girl could die if she doesn’t get immediate medical attention.

Identified only as Emily, the girl had been treated for leukemia for more than a month when she was taken out of Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Surveillance video shows the girl walking through the hospital with an IV, which was attached to a chest catheter. The girl, her mother and a brother walked into a lobby restroom, emerging minutes later with Emily in different clothes and without her IV. The group then walked out of the hospital and into a waiting black van.

Emily, who had her arm amputated because of an infection, was scheduled to be released from the hospital last Thursday, the day after she disappeared.

“There’s a pretty good chance of this child obtaining an infection,” said Phoenix police spokesman Steve Martos. “Once an infection starts, it could be just a matter of days, which could turn fatal.”

While the mother’s actions may seem heartless to outsiders, having a child diagnosed with cancer is probably one of the most traumatic times for a parent, says Dr. Theodore Moore, chief of pediatric hematology, oncology, and bone marrow transplant at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA.

“Lots of times the things they do may not appear rational to the rest of us,” Moore, who is not involved in the case, told TODAY.com.

When a parent takes a child out of treatment there are two big risks. First, when it comes to leukemia, time is critical, he explains.

“A break in therapy can put the child’s outcome at risk, especially if that break is prolonged -- weeks, as opposed to days,” Moore says.

Then there’s the issue of the catheter disconnection or removal. In addition to infection, Moore says, it might also lead to the release of blood clots that could eventually end up in the lungs or heart.

“The most important thing, no matter what has happened, is that the child gets seen as soon as possible,” Moore says.

It’s standard care for pediatric patients to have a catheter threaded through the skin into one of the major veins with the tip terminating in the right atrium of the heart, Moore explains.

By running the catheter directly into the heart of a pediatric cancer patient, the veins are protected from the caustic chemicals typical in chemotherapy, Moore says. “Going into the heart itself where there is so much blood, the chemotherapy and other drugs are diluted and don’t cause as much damage.”

With a catheter, there’s a big reduction in the risk for infection while the child is undergoing treatment. But perhaps just as important, “kids don’t have to get poked every day with an IV needle. That reduces the pain for the children and improves the quality of care,” Moore says.

Authorities know very little about the family, only that her mother is “Norma,” and her father is “Luis.” They are seeking the community’s help in locating the girl and making sure she receives proper medical treatment.

-- TODAY.com’s Linda Carroll contributed to this report


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