As an infant, Isabelle Prichard beat back brain cancer using a combination of western and alternative medical treatments. She had four surgeries to remove the glio blastoma multiforma, a rare form of brain cancer she was born with. But it was not until being treated by an alternative healer that her cancer went into remission.
"It was the hope," Isabelle said about what she thinks is the cause of her survival.
Isabelle and her family are leaning heavily on hope again. A new, unidentified mass is growing inside the 13-year-old Ashland Middle School student's head.
The doctors who identified the new mass during a CAT scan said it is likely cancer. They recommended another surgery to have it removed. But the healer whom her parents believe cured her the first time says new brain cells are growing in her head, and they should allow the mass to stay.
The Prichard family has decided to place their trust with the healer, and allow the unidentified growth to remain.
"Just because doctors aren't telling you about other forms of healing, doesn't mean they don't exist," said Megan Prichard, Isabelle's mother. "Isabelle is living proof they do."
A school administrator disagreed so vehemently with the Prichards' decision that he reported the family to the child welfare division of the Department of Human Services. Ashland Middle School Principal Dale Rooklyn confirmed that an employee reported the Prichards, but would not comment, citing the confidential nature of the matter. Patricia Feeney, a spokesperson for DHS said a child's medical care can only be dictated by parents.
"Ultimately the care of a child is up to the parents," said Feeney. "It's the same laws that apply to immunization. If people have religious reasons for not doing it, they don't have to."
The Prichard family calls it their spirituality, rather than religion, but the principle is the same.
"Because of what we've gone through I can't believe otherwise," Megan Prichard said. "We're choosing to believe that new brain tissue is possible. It's a matter of changing the paradigm."
Doctors first diagnosed Isabelle with cancer when the girl was just two months old.
"The doctor told us she wouldn't live to see her first birthday," Megan Prichard said. "They told us there was no cure and she would not live."
The Prichards, who were living in Iowa at the time, didn't give up. Megan Prichard drove to Canada for a controversial medicine, outlawed in the United States, called chondriana. She smuggled it across the border. When future prescriptions were mailed to her home, Department of Immigration agents showed up at her door and demanded she turn it over.
The Prichard's believe the chondriana fought off the cancer for the time being.
"The tumor came back," Megan Prichard said, "but it only grew half as big as the doctors expected it to. The chondriana was slowing it down."
But the chondriana did not stop it; and the tumor grew back to full size again.
"We pretty much prepared for her to die," Megan Prichard said, remembering how her and her husband Doug had almost given up hope. "We thought it would take her life."
So Megan took Isabelle to San Francisco to see her grandparents one last time. While there they met Nicholai Levashov, a psychic healer from Russia.
"He spent five minutes working on her," Megan Prichard said.
Levashov held his hands over the infant's body, she said. Levashov heals people "by going inside their body psychically and tweaking with the damaged cells and tissues," according to a Web site that touts his abilities.
"After 10 days of this, Nicholai said, 'I think I can cure her,'" Megan Prichard said.
Leveshov continued treating Isabelle over the phone. After a fourth surgery, the cancer was gone.
"It was the first time the tumor didn't come back," Megan Prichard said. "Ultimately Nicholai cured her."
The television show "Unsolved Mysteries" did a segment on Leveshov's work on Isabelle, which she shows to her friends to explain to them what she has gone through.
Now Isabelle Prichard lives a relatively typical life for a 13-year-old. She sings in a church choir, and engages in many activities that other girls her age do, like worrying about her hair and her clothes.
"I juggle school, family and friends," Isabelle said. "Pretty much the normal struggles of a teenage girl."
She added, "But I also have struggles that most people don't have to worry about."
Her left arm doesn't work and she has seizures on occasion. But considering doctors once told her parents she would die before learning to speak, she can deal with an occasionally embarrassing seizure at school.
"Sometimes I wonder why this happened to me," she said. "When I sit down to think about it, I do get nervous about it."
While doctors may think she is ill, she has hope that the exact opposite is happening, and the miracle of her life is just getting started.
"Nobody believed I would make it this long," she said. "It's not an unsolved mystery, it's a solved mystery."
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