Nov 3, 2014
WGRZ.com - BUFFALO – About a year ago, doctors told Nathan Nocera that his daughter had a brain tumor the size of a golf ball.
"Just tore my world apart," Nocera said. "And I knew everything was going to be different after that."
Nocera, who lives in Niagara Falls, now spends the majority of his days in Buffalo at the Women and Children's Hospital. His eight-year-old daughter, Donella, has Stage Four brain cancer. It's difficult for her to communicate, let alone eat food. In the past year alone, she's undergone 33 radiation treatments.
"I can barely bare to watch this, because she's just withering away in front of us," Nocera said. "And I can't do anything about it."
As a last resort, Nocera would like his daughter to gain access to medical marijuana, which is why he created an online petition to bolster support. Medical marijuana
is already legal in New York, but the law requires an 18-month waiting period before the program can operate. That has left families like the Noceras in limbo— the drug is legal, but they can't get it until January of 2016.
Following the deaths of three Western New York children who'd hoped to try medical marijuana to alleviate seizures, elected leaders in this state have asked the federal government to help them accelerate the process. Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker have all lobbied the federal government to allow a waiver for medical marijuana in certain emergency cases.
Their efforts have focused on gaining medical marijuana access for children with epilepsy. Donella, on the other hand, has cancer. But a spokesperson for the Department of Health told 2 On Your Side on Wednesday that "should the waiver be approved, the Commissioner will consider asking for expansion on a case-by-case basis."
Gabriel Sayegh, the Managing Director of Policy and Campaigns for the Drug Policy Alliance, said the Department of Justice
must respond as soon as possible to the state's requests for waivers.
"Right now, for these patients and their families, this is an emergency. We've got kids that are suffering, whether it's from epilepsy or cancer. We've got adult patients who are suffering tremendously, who could find some relief," Sayegh said. "So our view is, yes-- there really should not be any hurdles here. This thing needs to be moving forward."
As a part of its waiver request, the state suggests the federal government should allow New York to important medical marijuana from other states for certain patients in need. The Drug Policy Alliance applauds these efforts, but Sayegh said his organization would also like New York to simply allow producers within the state to make medical marijuana products before the January 2016 implementation date.
"That's where an additional solution could be found," Sayegh said.
In the meantime, Nocera's hospital visits will continue.
"Please help my daughter and my family," Nocera said. "We don't want to lose her. We love her so very much. She means so much to us."