In the first of a two-part interview, LeafCann chief executive Elisabetta Faenza tells Cannabiz how a rare genetic condition in childhood shaped her interest in medicine and propelled her quest for plant-based solutions.
Elisabetta Faenza remembers the moment well. It arrived during yet another visit with her mum to an Italian hospital. Sitting in a consultant’s office, both mother and daughter listened to the prognosis for Elisabetta, then just 11 years old.
The news was shattering. In all probability, the consultant told them, Elisabetta would be in a wheelchair by her 14th birthday, and unlikely to reach adulthood. And this after she had been making good progress.
“I remember looking at my mother’s face and just, I mean, she was devastated,” Elizabetta recalls. “She had heard this over and over and over again and each time she and my dad would sell whatever they had, do whatever they needed to have me survive. And now she was told this devastating news that her daughter, who was really bright, and now doing well at school having previously been too ill to attend, was unlikely to make adulthood.
“I just remember making my mind up there and then that I was going to do whatever was required to stay alive.”
True to her word, Elisabetta, now 55, did just that. But beyond just surviving, she became a mother-of-four after being told she would never have children. She immersed herself in medical science to better understand her survival. And now she runs LeafCann, one of Australia’s highly ambitious medicinal cannabis operations. Drawing on her unique and personal experiences, she is set on providing hope and respite to those in need.
The drugs don’t work
Elisabetta was born with a rare genetic condition that led to a range of deeply traumatic medical issues. With Australia unable to offer sufficient remedies, her Australian-born mother Ronda and Italian father Alfio sold everything to send their daughter to a pilot health program in Italy where they spent years searching for answers. While her father raised finances in the desolate mines in Coober Pedy, her mother, with little grasp of the language, navigated the Italian health care system.