Aside from being unusually cute, two-year-old June Jessee could be any of the smiley toddlers at the South Pearl Street Farmers Market today. It's so hot our cheeks are red, but June sleeps easily in her stroller, cool in her pink and green jumper, head heavy to one side as she sucks her pacifier and the symphony of yipping dachshunds and noisy vendors and kids waiting in line for balloon animals becomes her personal white noise machine.
In short, she gives no indication of suffering from seizures so severe that her parents moved from Missouri to Colorado in order to treat them (very successfully) with high-CBD oil.
Likewise, June's charming, yoga-fit mother, Genny Jessee, could be a typical Midwesterner who's shifted west for the powder and sun. And Matt, her husband, a political lobbyist finishing his law degree at the University of Denver, looks like the other 5.0 tennis players at Gates at 7:00 p.m. on a Thursday night.
But Genny and Matt moved here for more than the coveted Colorado lifestyle. And giggly June has overcome more adversity than most of the children we pass today. Together, the family has been through hell. But now it looks like they might be on their way back thanks to Colorado's stance on medical marijuana.
After trying ten different pharmaceuticals (one a hormone doctors warned might kill baby June) over the course of two years to treat June's seizures, the Jessees, both born and raised in St. Louis, decided to abruptly leave their longtime home to gain access to a more natural, but regionally illicit, cure for their daughter's intractable epilepsy.
Genny did everything right while she was pregnant. She took prenatal vitamins and "didn't eat unpasteurized cheeses," she says. So she was surprised when, soon after labor and delivery, a doctor at the hospital told her June had failed the newborn hearing test. Two months later, as Genny was coping with postpartum blues, June had a seizure.
Seizures are difficult to diagnose in infants, and the condition might have gone untreated for longer if Genny's friend hadn't dropped by for a visit and, for no reason in particular, told her about the childhood seizures suffered by her brother; they'd started off as strange eye movements and a stiffening of the arm.
Marijuana Deals Near You
"Before she told me that, I thought seizures were just shaking," Genny remembers. "Then, all of a sudden, June did the stiffening with her arm. I watched her like a hawk the whole weekend and then I took her to the hospital."
Gessy and her daughter were sent home from the hospital and assured nothing was wrong. Eventually, though, June was diagnosed with infantile spasms. Despite extensive testing, the episodes have never been explained.
Continue for more about the Jessee family's move to Colorado for June's high CBD-oil treatment. Before moving to Colorado and starting their daughter on a cannabis-derived oil containing cannabidiol (CBD) and low amounts of THC, June was having up to five seizures an hour, the worst ones lasting about fifteen seconds, with the regularity of brain interruptions leaving June delayed in developmental milestones like walking, crawling and sitting upright.
Before moving to Colorado, the Jessees hadn't slept through the night for two years because "sleep often brings on the seizures," explains Genny. But, now June -- and her parents -- can finally get some rest thanks to the oil that Genny administers to June by mouth with a syringe three times a day.
The couple has rented a place in Stapleton since relocating last month. When they first began exploring medical marijuana, they thought it would take a long time to get a license for treating their daughter. But "everything happened really fast," Genny recalls, and the two headed to Colorado as quickly as they could.
Once a month they drive up to Longmont to see their caregiver -- "our drug dealer," Genny says, laughing about the time she called him a farmer and he replied, "I prefer botanist!" -- for a special oil he makes in an all-white lab while wearing a full body suit. It's a scene straight out of Breaking Bad -- only, this time, the substance produced is a lifesaving one.
Since beginning treatment in Colorado under the care of two doctors practicing at Vibrant Health Clinic in Colorado Springs, both parents have noticed June's increasingly happy mood, and they are glad for the disappearance of frequent screaming outbursts that had sometimes kept them isolated.
Legalization of oils high in CBD but low in THC is part of a larger national movement -- one Matt has become integrally involved with. When Matt told a friend, state Representative Caleb Jones, a Missouri Republican, that he was relocating to Colorado, Jones asked how he could help. Matt told him to change the law.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Jones sponsored a bill subsequently passed by the Missouri House and Senate that would allow patients like June access to the high-CBD oil therapy. The bill awaits the approval of Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, a Democrat rumored by some to be pining for a primary bid in the upcoming presidential election.
But even if the bill is signed into law -- we'll know the outcome by Tuesday -- the Jessees will stay in Colorado, at least for a while. Explains Matt: "Medical marijuana has been happening in Colorado for over twenty years and there is a strong infrastructure in place to support it here."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this post used the term "hemp oil" rather than high-CBD oil. Our apologies for the error.
Follow Jamie Siebrase on Twitter.