Coroner Investigates Death of Girl Who Refused Chemotherapy

PHOTO: Makayla Sault, 11, appears in this video posted to YouTube on May 13, 2014 titled, "Ojibwe child refuses chemo, wants traditional medicine instead."YouTube
Makayla Sault, 11, appears in this video posted to YouTube on May 13, 2014 titled, "Ojibwe child refuses chemo, wants traditional medicine instead."

The death of an 11-year-old girl who sparked headlines after her family agreed to let her stop chemotherapy will be investigated by a local coroner.

Makayla Sault, a member of the First Nations tribe in Canada, died after suffering a stroke on Sunday, according to a family statement.

Makayla’s case grabbed headlines after, at the girl's request, she stopped chemotherapy treatment for her acute lymphoblastic leukemia in May. The move led to the family being investigated by a division of Canada's Children’s Aid Society, which ultimately allowed the family to continue to care for Makayla without requiring the chemotherapy treatments.

In a statement released this week, the girl's family blamed her death on the 12 weeks of chemotherapy she had undergone before she stopped treatment. The family said it was not the disease that killed Makayla, but rather the effects of the chemotherapy.

“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 said in a statement. "Chemotherapy did irreversible damage to her heart and major organs. This was the cause of the stroke."

McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, where Makayla was treated, said it had no comment on the claims in the family's statement. However, the hospital, part of the Hamilton Health Sciences family of hospitals, released its condolences for Makayla's family.

"Everyone who knew Makayla was touched by this remarkable girl," said the statement, signed by Peter Fitzgerald, the hospital's president. "Her loss is heart-breaking. Our deepest sympathy is extended to Makayla’s family.”

Cheryl Mahyr, a spokeswoman for the office of the chief coroner in Ontario, told ABC News that there was an ongoing investigation into Makayla’s death, but that it was a routine investigation sparked by the earlier Children’s Aid Society probe.

Brant Family and Children’s Services, the Children's Aid Society division that investigated the family, expressed its condolences in a statement issued after Makayla’s death.

"Makayla was a wonderful, loving child who eloquently exercised her indigenous rights as a First Nations person and those legal rights provided to her under Ontario’s Health Care Consent Act," the group’s statement read, in part. "The parents are a caring couple who loved their daughter deeply."

Chief Bryan LaForme, a spokesman for Makayla's family, told ABC News that the girl did not have any signs of leukemia at the time of her death. He noted that it was Makayla, herself, who asked to stop treatment and that her family supported her decision.

Dr. John Letterio, chief of pediatric hematology and oncology at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, said it was unlikely that chemotherapy drugs could have caused a stroke months after Makayla stopped treatment.

“The drugs we use, literally thousands of patients have had these,” said Letterio, who did not treat Makayla. “One of the chemotherapy agents we use has the risk for some heart problems [but] it’s so very, very rare.”

Letterio said the chance of complications would also be further reduced if Makayla was out of chemotherapy treatment for months.

However, Letterio said if Makayla did have active leukemia disease, there’s a chance cardiac complications could occur.

“Leukemia, in essence, goes everywhere the blood stream goes. Those cancer cells can accumulate,” said Letterio. “It could be a complication of her disease if it began to march along. It’s hard to tell.”

Makayla’s death came a few months after an Ontario judge ruled on a similar case in which an unidentified girl, also part of the First Nations tribe, refused chemotherapy. In that case, the judge ruled the family of the girl would be allowed to pursue alternative treatment and stop chemotherapy in part because of their "aboriginal right."