It's the night of the big dance, and 12-year-old Katie Hartley of Duxbury, Massachusetts couldn't be more excited. Her parents, Julie and Paul, cherish every moment with her. Just four years ago, doctors told the Hartleys that Katie wouldn't live to see such a day. 48 Hours Correspondent Peter van Sant reports.
"They said, Mrs. Hartley, we have some really bad news to tell you," Julie remembers. "Your whole world is destroyed in a matter of seconds. You just want the world to be over. You want it to stop. You're like, it can't be real."
Katie had a cancerous tumor in her left sinus.
"I would estimate it to be the size of a baseball," says Dr. Shelly Bernstein, Katie's oncologist. "It was growing rapidly enough that over a several day period, her left eye was being pushed out."
Katie received nine months of chemotherapy and radiation, only to be told that her tumor was still alive.
"He said more than likely, that tumor, which is wrapped around her carotid artery, is going to grow back and she's going to fall asleep and never wake up," says Paul.
The Hartleys began a frantic search for help. They found it in a boy named Billy Best. Billy made national news at age 16 when he ran away from his Massachusetts home rather than undergo another minute of painful chemotherapy for Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes.
Billy's parents, Sue and Bill Best, came home one night and found a note. It read: "The reason I left is because I could not stand going to the hospital every week. I feel like the medicine is killing me instead of helping me."
Billy's parents went on television to plead for his return. He finally came home after his parents agreed to allow him to end chemotherapy treatments. His doctors said such a decision would be fatal.
The family searched for an alternative therapy and found an untested drug called 7-14-X, whose maker claims it can cure cancer by boosting the body's immune system.
"7-14-X is an injection, and it's made up of camphor, nitrogen, and mineral salts," says Dr. Bernstein. "Well, two-and-a-half months later, the cancer was gone."
Soon, everyone had heard Billy's story, including Katie and her family. Without telling her doctors, her family arranged for Katie to try 714-X.
Katie's sinuses were x-rayed a year and a half later, and her parents were stunned at what they saw. The cancer had all but disappeared.
The drug Katie Hartley and Billy Best believe saved their lives is illegal in the U.S. It hasn't been tested or approved by the government, so families travel to Quebec, Canada, where French scientist Gaston Naessens mixes 7-14-X in his basement.
Naessens started making 7-14-X in the 1970s. Although he's not a doctor, that hasn't stopped him from making remarkable and unproven medical claims about the drug.
Naessens says more than 30,000 Americans have tried 7-14-X, paying $300 a treatmen. His critics say it has made him a wealthy man. But the important fact, they say, is that Naessons has refused every offer to test the drug and has neglected to keep any records on survival rates.
Dr. Gerald Batist, one of Canada's leading cancer researchers, visited Naessens' lab a couple of years ago.
"I left there horribly disappointed," Batist recalls. "I felt sad knowing that patients were taking this drug with these high hopes, knowing there was no evidence."
Since then, Batist has seen patients with treatable cancers refuse conventional therapy and instead take 7-14-X. They're now dead. And the American Cancer Society agrees, saying 7-14-X has not been proven effective and may be dangerous. So how did Billy and Katie survive? Dr. Batist says that in their cases, the cancer would have disappeared without the drug.
But the families don't want to believe it. "It was an answer to our prayers," says Julie.
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