IMPACT

Makayla Sault, Girl Who Refused Chemo For Leukemia, Dies

01/19/2015 07:48 EST | Updated 03/21/2015 05:59 EDT

Video courtesy of Two Row Times via YouTube

Makayla Sault, the 11-year-old girl who refused chemotherapy to pursue traditional indigenous medicine and other alternative treatments, has died.

She died Monday after suffering a stroke Sunday.

The girl’s case made national headlines and ignited a debate about the validity of indigenous medicine and the rights of children to choose their own treatment.

Makayla was given a 75 per cent chance of survival when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in March. She underwent 11 weeks of chemotherapy at McMaster Children’s hospital in Hamilton.

Her mother, Sonya Sault, said Makayla experienced severe side-effects and at one point ended up in intensive care.

After Makayla said she had a vision of Jesus in the hospital, she wrote a letter to her doctors asking to stop treatment.

“I am writing this letter to tell you that this chemo is killing my body and I cannot take it anymore.”

She left chemotherapy treatment to pursue alternative and traditional indigenous medicine.

"Makayla was on her way to wellness, bravely fighting toward holistic well-being after the harsh side-effects that 12 weeks of chemotherapy inflicted on her body," the family statement reads.

"Chemotherapy did irreversible damage to her heart and major organs. This was the cause of the stroke."

Attended 'life transformation program'

When Makayla decided against continuing chemotherapy, the hospital referred her case to the Brant Children’s Aid Society. After a brief investigation, it decided Makayla was not a child in need of protection and that it would not apprehend her to return her to treatment.

In an interview with CBC News in May, before the Brant Children's Aid Society closed its investigation, the director Andrew Koster said, "For us to take her away, to apprehend and place in a home with strangers, if that's the case, if there aren't any relatives, when she's very, very ill — I can't see how that would be helpful."

“I think people much more knowledgeable than ourselves need to be involved to look at what types of traditional medicines are being used, how does it fare up to some of the chemo treatments," said Koster.

In July, Makayla travelled to the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida and took its three-week "life transformation program." On its website, Hippocrates states: "The goal of the institute is to assist people in taking responsibility for their lives and to help them internalize and actualize an existence free from premature aging, disease and needless pain."

Makayla touched everyone she knew, said Peter Fitzgerald, president of McMaster Children's Hospital, in a statement.

"Her loss is heartbreaking," he said, extending his condolences to her family.

Related precedent-setting case in Ontario court

Her death comes a few months after an Ontario judge ruled in an unprecedented case of another First Nations girl who also refused chemo.

The girl, whose identity is protected under a publication ban, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia​ in August. Doctors at McMaster Children’s Hospital gave her a 90 to 95 per cent chance of survival.

After 10 days of chemotherapy, she and her mother left McMaster to seek treatment at the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida.

In an interview with CBC News, her mother said, “This was not a frivolous decision I made. Before I took her off chemo, I made sure that I had a comprehensive health-care plan that I was very confident that was going to achieve ridding cancer of her body before I left the hospital. This is not something I think may work, this is something I know will work.”

Judge Gethin Edward rejected the application from the Hamilton hospital that would have seen the Children’s Aid Society intervene in this case.

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