Lying flat on his back in Thomas Jefferson University Hospital last night, 16-year-old Mazzerati Mitchell said he didn't want to take medications that could help heal his bruised spine after a wrestling injury.

His parents, Vermell and Jack Mitchell, are on the same page. The family believes in herbal medicines, natural healing, noninvasive measures.

But the hospital and Delaware County don't agree. That's why the Mitchells got a letter yesterday from Delaware County's Department of Human Services' Office of Children and Youth Services saying that their son had been taken into protective custody.

"It's taken our rights away as parents," Vermell Mitchell said. "Protective custody implies we're not good parents. We are good parents."

In part, the letter reads, "This action was taken because of the child's immediate medical need to be immobilized and to receive medications that would strengthen his spine and the parents' refusal to cooperate with the treating professionals' medical recommendations to repair his spinal injury, which led us to determine that safety and well-being of the child was at risk."

The Mitchells, of Boothwyn, intend to go to court in Media this morning to fight the decision.

A spokesman for Jefferson did not return a page seeking comment last night.

Mazzerati, a junior at Chichester High School, was injured Tuesday during wrestling practice. Immediately afterward, he was unable to feel or move his limbs.

But within an hour, Vermell Mitchell said, "His feeling was back and he was moving his legs and arms. Everyone that's examined him said how he's getting better."

The parents said they had no problem with Mazzerati's being taken to the hospital and the tests he underwent. Their problems are with what came next.

They declined to have their son given steroids or medicines that would affect his blood pressure. They declined, they said, when one doctor recommended surgery that would include putting pins in Mazzerati's spine.

Vermell Mitchell, who has studied natural medicine and is a practicing herbalist, told the doctor that she would use herbs to heal her son. She also was open to physical therapy for him.

"I explained what I do and why I don't believe in what he wants to do," she said. "What he wants to do with the pins and needles the body can do on its own. I said I could do natural things. He got very upset when I told him what I could do versus what he could do."

The Mitchell family lives a natural lifestyle: The parents and all eight of their children, ages 9 to 30, are vegetarians. Vermell Mitchell gave birth each time without drugs. With the exception of one child's arm injury, which required a hospital visit, the children have never been seriously ill, she said.

Aside from the immunity-booster echinacea, Vermell Mitchell said she would give her son liquid chlorophyll (to increase circulation and blood flow to the spine), slippery elm (to address inflammation) and goldenseal (an anti-microbial).