DENVER -- Any parent would do whatever it takes to make a sick child feel better. But would you uproot your entire life, pack up the kids, and move across the country?
A growing number of families are doing just that. Relocating to Colorado. Some call them “marijuana refugees.”
People like Ornella Pisciuneri. She left her husband and two of her children back home in New Jersey, and moved to Colorado Springs a month ago, seeking treatment for her son Alex, 20, who suffers from Lefora Body Disease, an incurable and often deadly form of epilepsy.
They tried every medication possible, and nothing worked. But then Ornella saw a story about Charlotte Figi, a six-year-old Colorado girl with Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that caused her hundreds of violent seizures every week.
Charlotte started taking a special strain of cannabis oil, or medical marijuana, and now she’s down to two or three seizures a week.
That's when Ornella made up her mind. She had to move to Colorado and try the same treatment for her son.
“I said whatever little money we have put aside, I don't care, if I can find him a little relief, then I don't care about anything, anything,” Ornella told FOX 31 Denver.
The Pisciuneri’s are part of a wave of so-called medical marijuana refugees here in Colorado. People who've moved their children here from states where it's illegal or severely restricted.
“We're doing things here that aren't happening anywhere on the globe,” said Dr. Margaret Gedde, who runs a medical marijuana practice in Colorado Springs, where she treats a number of young patients with Cannabis oil. She sees as many as five new young patients a week from out of state.
“So many of them are so damaged, they're developmentally delayed, they have very little quality of life. So it opens a whole new way of living and they're just thrilled,” said Gedde.
Among her patients, the Rollins family. They moved here from southern Indiana with their daughter Emily, 4, back in March.
“She would have over a 100 seizures a day. She was on four medications alone just for the seizures,” said Erica Rollins.
But the day after she started on medical marijuana, Emily was down to just six seizures.
“I think we just stared at each other for hours, like did this really just happen?” Erica said.
The Rollins are religious people, and had been opposed to all forms of marijuana, until they saw how it helped their daughter.
“The abuse and the negligence and the stigma shouldn't reflect people's opinions. It shouldn’t be the only thing they look at when they can see the good right here,” Joe Rollins said, pointing to his daughter.
“We only saw ‘Cheech and Chong’ and Willie Nelson as the face of medical marijuana, and now the face of cannabis isn't that any longer, it's sick kids who deserve a chance,” said Erica.
Because it's illegal in so many states - families like the Rollins are stuck in Colorado indefinitely, away from family and friends back home, while the children receive treatment. If they crossed state lines with Emily’s marijuana oil, they’d be breaking the law.
Alex Pisciuneri and his mom don't know how long they'll be here. He hasn't even started the marijuana treatment yet. He's still on the waiting list. His mom hopes to get his first dosage of cannabis oil sometime next week. And she doesn't even know if it'll work. But it's worth a shot.
“He's my first born, are you kidding? I would go … I don't know where … and back, because this shouldn't have happened,” Ornella said.
Alex isn't the only one waiting to start medical marijuana treatment. Right now some 200 kids are on a waiting list for that special cannabis oil extract, and the number of children in our state with medical marijuana red cards has tripled since March, with so many families moving to our state.
To learn more about the Colorado non-profit organization helping young people receive cannabis oil for their medical problems, click here: http://realmofcaringfoundation.org/