In 2009, Mieko Hester-Perez bravely spoke to a national television audience to usher the issue of medical marijuana for children into the national debate over pot consumption. Her appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America with host Diane Sawyer was especially compelling; many of us cheered her on with tears in our eyes as Hester-Perez concluded the interview by saying, “I saved my son’s life. Marijuana saved my son’s life. When a mother hears that her son is knocking on death’s door? You will do anything to save your child’s life.” I spoke with the loving mom about her son, Joey, hoping to bring some of that inspiration to Blunt Truth readers.
What conditions does Joey suffer from?
Joey is autistic and also battling Muscular Dystrophy. At the moment, he is recovering from a spinal fusion surgery. He’s 14 years old now. I stand by my word on this to the national media, cannabis is still effectively helping him survive, not only providing him with a better life, [but also] prolonging his life. Joey is doing remarkably well, better than most his age suffering from the same medical conditions. I’m finding many of the doctors that come into contact with Joey are surprised at how well he is doing. Some are even interested, having “I can’t actually believe it’s true about this medical marijuana treatment” moments. It’s not just parents inquiring. I’m finding that many doctors are also downloading our information. Joey is a golden child. It’s remarkable what cannabis has given us.
Have you had any negative results with child protective services or with schooling related to Joey’s use of cannabis?
Yes, we’ve been investigated by CPS but nobody wants to challenge me. I have three attorneys.
You credit two doctors with helping you find your way to trying medical cannabis for Joey …
I’m glad this is going out in Boston. In 2009, when I had nobody to turn to, I discovered Dr. Bernard Rimland, the director of the Autism Research Institute and founder of the Autism Society of America. Rimland’s 2003 article, “Medical Marijuana: a Valuable Treatment for Autism?” and others he published towards the end of his life–they opened my eyes. Dr. Grinspoon of Harvard University was the other doctor who gave me the information I desperately needed. I got on the phone with Grinspoon and he gave me additional support. These two doctors saved my son’s life. Thanking Dr. Grinspoon in person, at a reform event in New York City, that was special.
How, when, why did you start UF4A.org? What do you hope to achieve?
[The organization] was formed in 2009, literally the hour after I walked off the set of the Good Morning America interview. For the first time since my son was diagnosed with autism, I finally knew I wasn’t alone. As long as my son was laughing and smiling–it was my obligation to pay it forward. In the autism community, all we have is each other to lean on. Now, with an informational website, I am able to keep the oath I made in 2009, and that’s to help one family at a time and hope they’ll pay it forward. To date, as I travel across the country, I’ve realized there’s a mom like me and a child like my son in every city, town, and state in America. No autism diagnoses are alike, which means providing hope was my only goal for UF4A.org. Not every parent is a legal and medical researcher.
Why should moms care about marijuana reform and how might they influence this cause?
Moms, we play a significant role, but parents in this reform movement make up a huge voting block that could very well mimic the rise of autism in 1 out of 50 homes in America. Families who have exhausted all other treatments for our children on the spectrum. I’m reminded of one mom’s story, a wife of a Harvard professor. In [her attempt] to ease her child’s chemotherapy sessions, she chose existence. I believe the meaning of reform is to make changes, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice in order to improve it. This defines who we are in America today as citizens who vote on topics that promote a better quality of life.
What advice do you have for parents with autism seeking guidance and education in regards to the use of cannabis and alternative therapies?
To know what to expect after you have made this decision. Until further laws are passed, there is a crash course of navigating through this treatment option as with most alternative therapies that are not covered by traditional healthcare. I’ve put together a booklet on what to expect for parents. The link can be found on UF4A.ORG, and the booklet provides families with a bird’s eye view of all the red tape associated with this treatment. Most of all, if your child needs this treatment and you are not in a compassionate state, move to one.