Cancer drug withheld at jail

By Joel Eisenbaum, Investigative Reporter, Anchor, jeisenbaum@kprc.com
Published On: Feb 24 2012 04:17:37 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 24 2012 10:36:32 PM CST

Feb. 24, 2012: A Houston woman says her cancer drug was withheld while she served jail time. Joel Eisenbaum reports.

HOUSTON -

At 44, Leigh Buquo is fighting two battles -- cancer and custody. Buquo told Local 2 it has drained her emotionally and financially.

"Really the last thing on my mine was a custody issue or child support. I was trying to fight for my life," Buquo said.

That decision did not find favor with her ex-husband.

Buquo told Local 2 she agreed with a judge's approval to spend seven weekends in jail as punishment for her non-payment. She is more than $12,000 behind in child support payments.

Buquo was not happy about spending every other weekend in the Harris County Jail, especially with rectal cancer, which is in remission.

But Buquo did figure with her doctor-prescribed pain medication and anti-depressants, she would make it through.

"I was treated worse than an animal," Buquo said regarding her first jail visit.

Buquo brought medication bottles with her, as well as an authentic note, but the drugs were confiscated and she claims she spent the weekend in excruciating pain.

"We can't take their medications coming in off the street. We don't know what's in the medicine bottle," said Alan Bernstein, Harris County Jail spokesman.

Typically, a jail doctor must re-prescribe medication after a check-up, Bernstein said.

Buquo claims she did not get to see a jail staff doctor until 30 hours after she got to the Harris County Jail, and was also left to stew in her own soiled clothing, an unsavory side effect of her rectal cancer.

"We do not know if she brought that to the attention of anyone on staff and if that presented a medical need and or to be seen faster," Bernstein said.

Buquo said it was clear she needed a change of clothes.

Bernstein also disputes Buquo's timeline of events and said she saw a nurse within 45 minutes of arrival, and a doctor early Saturday morning who did prescribe the same medications. But Bernstein acknowledged it is possible Buquo did not actually receive any medication during her weekend stay.

"If you get a prescription from your doctor that doesn't put the medication in your hands and if you have to get behind 9,000 people, it may take awhile," Bernstein said, referring to the jail's population, a quarter of which requires prescription medication.

Bernstein is confident Buquo was not in a medically dangerous situation by not receiving the medication, and her next weekend should go more smoothly because she has now seen a staff doctor.

"I was trying my hardest to keep myself together," Buquo said, "The pain was just unbearable. I've got six more weekends to go."

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