The shutdown of the federal government now threatens the life of 17-year old Melissa Mugno of Clearwater. She is one of only five children scheduled this month to receive an experimental cancer treatment at the National Institutes of Health [NIH] in Bethesda, Maryland.
"I was on the Internet and it said...NIH and...all of the trials that are coming up have been shut down," her dad Rick Mugno said.
Melissa says she is at a loss for words.
"It just frustrates me because that's our only hope, and knowing what doctors told me down here, and then finding that hope that we have, and then it getting crushed down -- it kind of makes me mad," she said.
A cancer called osteosarcoma has already taken the Melissa's right knee, femur and hip. Over the course of nearly five years, she has endured 18 surgeries and 14 rounds of chemotherapy. The experimental treatment would essentially re-engineer of some her own blood cells and turn them into cancer cell killers.
Without that treatment, time is running out.
"After so many relapses, [the cancer] decides to go where it wants to. Now it's in the mid-sternum, the aorta, the heart, places like that," Rick Mugno explained.
Melissa has already started the chemotherapy that precedes the treatment at the NIH. Wednesday night, she learned of her involvement with a Congressional stalemate.
"When I saw the look on her face, that she may not be getting her treatment that might save her life, it was just devastating," her older sister Jennifer said.
The family hopes to learn that somehow, the treatment is still a "go" at a doctor's appointment Friday.
Until then -- and possibly for the rest of her life -- Melissa remains in the grip of a pervasive cancer.
"Every night when she goes to bed or goes to sleep to take a nap, she wants to know if she's going to wake up. ‘Am I going to die in my sleep,' " Rick Mugno said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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