COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) – After years of seeing their child suffer from severe medical conditions, a Columbus couple turned to medical marijuana.
But they had to split up the family and move to Colorado to get it. That is, until Georgia approved its use.
In our special report, News Leader 9's Chuck Leonard and Cheryl Renee have the story we call Growing Hope.
Ava Wilson has had an uphill struggle for all eight years of her young life. She was diagnosed with Mitochondrial Disease, a disorder which affects growth and muscle development.
"When she was first born she would not eat. She was severely underweight, wasn't meeting the milestones that children should at certain ages."
That was compounded when another problem developed.
"Two-and-a-half years ago Ava had her first seizure," said Ava's father Chey Wilson. "We did not even know that it was a seizure. She just kind of, was sitting right here where I'm sitting right now, we were watching football, and she just fell off the couch."
Chey says that one seizure became two, then three and eventually Ava was dealing with hundreds of seizures every day.
"It's so hard seeing somebody that you love so much suffer," added Ava's mother Jill.
Especially, when traditional medicines were not working. Then the family heard about cannabis oil, a marijuana by-product.
Jill was leery at first.
"I was shocked at the thought of giving my daughter something that's illegal, but watching her suffer and seize all the time was not okay, so I knew we had to do something drastic," Jill said.
That something was moving to Colorado where marijuana had become legal.
"We decided it was best for me to go out there with Ava to get on the Family Medical Leave Act," Jill said. "Actually, we moved out there with Chey's mom, who was a huge help."
The oil itself was an even bigger help. At one point, Ava went 30 days without a seizure. It appeared the move to Colorado was paying off. But a surprising development was happening back home in Georgia.
"Allen Peake was on the news with Haleigh Cox and we saw there was decent momentum in the legislature so we jumped on-board," Chey said.
Chey Wilson is talking about state representative Allen Peake (R) of Macon, who was opposed to the use marijuana for medicinal purposes until he met a struggling four-year old from Forsyth.
"She was in Eggleston Hospital, in the ICU, on her death bed, and when I met little Haleigh Cox, who looked just like my granddaughter, I had to ask the question every single one of us have to ask, what would I do if this was my child?" Peake said.
It was at that moment, Peake says he began a turnaround. He learned that cannabis oil could help children with seizures. He and five other lawmakers sponsored House Bill 1, which the governor signed back in April. It not only makes the oil available in Georgia, it also allows those who left to return.
"The 17 medical refugees, who I know personally, have moved to another state, most of them Colorado, almost all are back home now," Peake said. "We were able to help these families find a real solution, but also keep families here in Georgia who were considering moving to another state or didn't have enough financial means, you know couldn't do it for whatever reason, they're able to stay in Georgia now and be able to access cannabis oil."
Jill says she's glad to be back in Columbus and as you might expect, her husband is too. They were apart for almost five months.
Ava has had a bit of setback. She's in the hospital as we speak, doctors trying to wean her from the drugs she takes for Mitochondrial Disease, but we do have two bits of good news.
The Wilsons received their Registry Card from the Department of Public Health this week. It's basically a license to receive medical marijuana.
They also learned they no longer have to fly to Colorado to get it. The cannabis oil can now be legally shipped to their home.
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