Hopes For Autistic Child Lie In Controversial Treatment

By Sandy Kleffman for the Contra Costa Times

Lafayette, CA – At 18 months, Jamison Handley began his heartbreaking plunge into autism.

The once-happy child who met all his developmental milestones began to spend his days spinning in circles, running along the wall and bending over a chair, staring vacantly.

He stopped making eye contact and responding to his name.

“We could have left the house and gone on a vacation to Hawaii and he
would not have noticed,” said his father, J.B. Handley, a managing partner
for a San Francisco leveraged buyout firm.

“I cried six hours a day for a month. The reason we were devastated is
because we believed what we were told about his prospects.”
They learned autism has no known cause and no cure.

Yet today, J.B. and Lisa Handley say they have renewed hope thanks to
a controversial treatment known as chelation therapy, which strips the body
of metals such as mercury.

Now not quite 3, Jamison began the treatment 7 months ago and has made
dramatic progress, his parents say.

The Lafayette couple have formed an international organization, dubbed
Generation Rescue, to encourage other parents to consider the treatment.
They have signed up 150 families from throughout the nation and 13
countries who swear by the procedure and want to assist others in beginning
the process.

The Handleys maintain autism is caused by mercury poisoning in
genetically susceptible children whose bodies have a weakened ability to
protect themselves from toxic metals.

They officially launched their organization today with a full-page ad
in USA Today proclaiming that “Autism is preventable and reversible.”
Most medical experts denounce such claims and argue that it gives
parents false hope.

The influential Institute of Medicine last year rejected the idea of a
link between autism and mercury-containing vaccines.

Other experts worry about side effects of an unproven treatment.
“The problem I see with a general promotion of chelation therapy for
autism is there is no large, controlled study to determine whether it
actually helps the kids,” said Dr. Isaac Pessah. He is an autism researcher
at the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute and director of the Center for Children’s
Environmental Health.

“The concern is that these chelation therapies change more than just
the heavy metal balance in children. We don’t know what the consequences
might be.”

Pessah acknowledged that chelation may help some autistic children.
More study is needed, he said.

Chelation has been used for decades to decontaminate people exposed to
metals such as lead through their jobs or environmental factors.
Chelating drugs bind with the metals, which are then excreted in the
urine.

But the drugs also can remove beneficial minerals such as zinc, copper
and iron, so people often also take mineral supplements.

The Handleys say Jamison has made steady improvement since he began
the therapy.

“There’s a light in his eyes now,” his mother said. “He laughs. It had
been five months since we had seen his smile.”

Jamison has begun speaking again, uttering words such as Daddy, Mommy
and train.

One day last week, he played quietly with a train set on the floor.
Later, he sat on his dad’s lap in front of a computer, slowly repeating
“What’s that?” before answering his own question as types of trains appeared on the screen.

The small signs of progress mean everything to his parents.

“He is a lot more affectionate and cuddly,” Lisa Handley said. “He’s
seeking us out now.”

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