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Boy undergoes experimental marijuana treatment

Wyatt Hauser, 2, is in Oregon through August as part of a medical marijuana trial program. He is staying there with his grandfather and his mother, Jessica Hauser, who has emerged as an advocate for medical marijuana in Minnesota. Special to The Forum

WOODBURY, Minn. – A path Jessica Hauser never expected to be traveling is moving her family toward a crossroads.

The journey began when the Woodbury woman’s son, Wyatt, was diagnosed seven months into his young life with an epileptic condition called infantile spasms.

As Hauser and her husband, Jeremy, learned over time, the condition would cause Wyatt to have about 200 seizures a day.

“It’s horrible,” Jessica said of watching her son experience the seizures. “I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone.”

The journey continued with the search for treatment options. Nothing seemed to help, with the Hausers learning that the longer the seizures persist, the more likely they will leave Wyatt with developmental disabilities.

Hungry for information, Jessica took to the Internet, where she learned that some families were experimenting with medical marijuana for children with severe epilepsy.

She eventually found herself aligned with a medical marijuana advocacy group that this year urged lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton to change state law. A version of the medical marijuana law passed in May, and it will cover patients like Wyatt once the program is up and running in 2015.

The unexpected journey now has the Hausers at the edge of a precipice – and they don’t yet know what’s on the other side.

Jessica and 2-year-old Wyatt left in July for a monthlong trip to Oregon, where Wyatt is undergoing an experimental trial with medical marijuana. Oregon is the only state that allows nonresidents access to medical marijuana treatment.

Just a few days into the trials, the drug seems to be working: Jessica reports that Wyatt’s seizures were reduced by 75 percent after being treated with cannabinoids – the active chemical in medical marijuana.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Jessica’s father, Neil Hutzler, who is accompanying her and Wyatt on the trip while Jeremy and the couple’s other son, E.J., remain in Woodbury.

As the cannabis trials continue, they push toward a tipping point: What if it works?

If medical marijuana indeed proves to be a solution for Wyatt, Jessica and Jeremy will have to decide whether to wait the year for Minnesota’s program to begin or to pick up the family and move to Oregon, where treatments could begin immediately.

“You’d do anything to help,” Jessica said. “You’d travel across the state – or the country.”

The Hausers won’t be able to legally bring any of the medicine back to Minnesota, though treatment would beckon in Oregon without legal consequences.

Hanging in the balance is Wyatt, who is already lagging behind due to the seizures; the 2-year-old has the cognitive faculties of a 7-month-old, while his motor skills allow him to crawl, but not yet walk on his own.

As Jessica and her family enter the next leg of the journey, she does so after taking on a role she never expected: advocate.

Jessica said assuming the role of medical marijuana advocate was unusual for her since she’s not a user of the drug.

“But as a mother, you’d do anything for your child,” she said.

Jessica teamed up with Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, a medical marijuana advocacy group that lobbies at the Capitol. She was among a group of parents from the organization who met with Dayton at the governor’s mansion, where they urged him to reverse his opposition to medical marijuana in Minnesota.

Hauser made headlines around Minnesota after she reported back from the meeting, saying Dayton suggested she illegally buy marijuana for her son.

The parents’ appeal to Dayton apparently helped the effort gain traction and revived a bill that was thought to be dead earlier in the legislative session.

Lawmakers eventually passed a narrower version of the bill than advocates had sought. While the legislation – later signed by Dayton – will allow patients like Wyatt to receive medical marijuana, it does not open up the treatment to sufferers of chronic pain, a key group that advocates had hoped to include in the law.

“It was bittersweet,” Jessica said of the bill’s passage.

And while she said she’s disappointed that more patients aren’t covered, she is hopeful that people representing those groups will take the bold steps needed to make their appeals to lawmakers.

“There’s a lot of other risk involved there,” she said, noting that it could mean chronic pain sufferers having to step forward and admit to using marijuana illegally in order to testify that it works for them.

“It will be difficult for other groups to be as vocal.”

Meanwhile, Jessica soldiers on as a passionate advocate in support of Wyatt.

“I’ll be even more passionate if I discover what is (happening in Oregon) is working,” she said.

The program

Wyatt is participating in a program in Oregon called MxBioTech, which Jessica said is uniquely tailored to patients’ needs.

After experiencing the first few days in the program, Jessica said she’s been impressed by the program’s use of the scientific method in administering doses to Wyatt. He receives the medicine as a liquid that’s mixed with coconut oil he takes orally.

She’s also found the program to be immensely educational. Through MxBioTech, Jessica has learned how cannabinoids interact with human physiology and how different people respond to different profiles of the medicine.

“I know way more about cannabis than I do about any other pharmaceutical,” she said.

She’s also learning that it might work. The 75 percent reduction in seizures for Wyatt is encouraging, Jessica said, but noted that the program is far from over.

The question is inescapable: What if it works? The journey would take another turn.

The final results in August will be pivotal, Jessica said.

“Does it work? We’ll know that before we leave,” she said. “It could be a tough position at the end of the month.”