NEW ULM, Minn. - A mother who took her son out of state because he refused court-ordered chemotherapy for his cancer told a judge Tuesday she now believes the treatment is necessary to save his life. The judge then ruled Daniel Hauser can stay with his parents.
Thirteen-year-old Daniel has Hodgkin's lymphoma that an oncologist who examined him Monday said has significantly worsened. Daniel and his mother, Colleen Hauser, missed a court appearance last week and left the state to seek alternative treatments. But both his parents told the judge they now understand their son needs chemotherapy and will set aside their religious objections to it.
Attorneys for Brown County family services and Daniel's guardian ad litem objected to returning custody to Colleen and Anthony Hauser.
"The only thing that has happened since we were last here is that Colleen Hauser fled the state with her son," said Tom Sinas, attorney for the guardian ad litem. "I don't see how that is the basis for revisiting the custody decision."
When Judge John Rodenberg asked an emotional Colleen Hauser if she now believes chemotherapy is necessary to save her son's life, she replied, "Yes I do."
Rodenberg said he felt the best place for Daniel was with his parents, as long as he could trust they'd go along with the oncologist's recommendation that Daniel undergo at least five chemotherapy sessions. The first is scheduled for Thursday at Children's Hospitals and Clinics in Minneapolis.
The family prefers natural healing practices suggested by a religious group called the Nemenhah Band, which says it follows American Indian beliefs.
Daniel and Colleen Hauser returned home Monday after almost a week on the run, during which they traveled to southern California. Authorities believed they may have been heading to Mexico to seek alternative treatment. Instead they decided to return home, and contacted an attorney who helped arrange a flight on a jet chartered by Asgaard Media, a film and TV production company based in Corona, Calif.
Alan Pezzuto, president and CEO of Asgaard Media, said the company has no plans to profit from the Hausers story.
"We have no intention whatsoever of moving forward as a project," he said. "It is not business project, it's a personal project."
In exchange for having charges dropped against Colleen Hauser, the family let an oncologist examine Daniel. The exam showed a tumor in Daniel's chest has grown since his one chemotherapy treatment in February, and is larger than when he was diagnosed in January.
The tumor is "now protruding outside Daniel's chest wall," according to a report by Dr. Michael Richards, the oncologist who examined the boy on Monday. "There is further compression of the airway, making the initiation of standard chemotherapy imperative this week."
Doctors have said that because Daniel's tumor responded well to his first round of chemotherapy, the treatment likely will be successful again. Doctors won't know that for certain, until they try another round and see what happens. Doctors have said starting and stopping chemotherapy, or paring the treatment schedule as the Hausers proposed, could make a tumor resistant.
James Olson, the Brown County prosecutor, said social workers at Children's Hospital told him that as recently as Monday, when Daniel went to see the oncologist, the Hausers were still saying they didn't want chemotherapy. The family and their lawyers gave no indication of what was behind their apparent change of heart.
The Hausers did not return phone messages. The family's attorney, Calvin Johnson, and Daniel's court-appointed attorney, Philip Elbert, said no one in the family nor the attorneys themselves would speak to the media.
Richards, the pediatric oncologist, said in his report that the hospital's goal "will be to include alternative therapies in which the family is interested, as long as there is not data to suggest that a particular danger exists with any alternative medicine."
Still, Olson said he was not convinced the family would stick to the treatment plan.
"I am concerned that if Danny doesn't like the second round of chemotherapy he's going to say, 'I'm going to run away again,' and we're going to be right back where we started," Olson said. "These folks have had a history of changing their minds."
But Tom Hagen, an attorney for the Hausers, said the family was committed to Daniel Hauser's health.
"This family clearly loves and cares for Danny," Hagen said. "The environment at the Hausers' home is loving and caring. It is a healing place. Their main interest is in making sure Danny is OK."
Hodgkin's lymphoma has a 90 percent cure rate in children if treated with chemotherapy and radiation, but doctors said Daniel was likely to die without those treatments.
"Danny loves his parents and they love him. He's a fine boy, a very pleasant young man. I know he should be in the custody of his parents - as long as I'm satisfied they are going to follow the prescribed course of treatment," Rodenberg said.
Turning to Colleen and Anthony Hauser, Rodenberg said, "I'm taking you at your word. We're starting over right now."