Friday, November 3, 2023

Munchausen by proxy

Lawyers defending Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital (JHAC) in a $220 million medical malpractice lawsuit waged by Maya Kowalski and her family showed jurors photos of the teenager smiling at prom, homecoming and for Halloween.

The 17-year-old, whose story was the subject of the Netflix documentary "Take Care of Maya," is suing the Florida hospital after a saga that led to her mother Beata Kowalski's suicide following accusations of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

Maya's attorney Gregory Anderson told Court TV on Oct. 27 that the symptoms of his client's complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) — a poorly understood neuropathic condition — have worsened amid the stressors of the ongoing trial. 

Due to her "flare-up," the teen was unable to attend court hearings for several days, Anderson said. But attorneys for JHAC showed photos of Maya posing in dresses, heels and even a skimpy angel Halloween costume on Tuesday, saying the snaps of the teen out on the town contradicted those claims. 

For nearly six weeks, jurors have heard testimony from experts and Maya's doctors and nurses at the Florida hospital.

JHAC called the child abuse hotline after Beata, a registered nurse, insisted that the then-10-year-old Maya needed what the hospital claimed was a dangerously high amount of ketamine to treat a flare-up of her chronic pain in 2016.

Previously, the family told hospital staff, the girl had undergone an experimental ketamine coma in Mexico that has not been approved for treatment in the U.S. 

Staff reported Beata for medical child abuse, leading a judge to order Maya's separation from her family in 2016 for more than 80 days. JHAC's attorney Ethen Shapiro told reporters recently that the hospital's intervention is what "[got Maya to] where we see her today — walking in and out of court, going to homecoming, living a more normal teenage life." 

"A lot of the world is watching. This is potentially a very chilling case for mandatory reporting," Shapiro said in an audio clip provided to Fox News Digital. "Hopefully by mandatory reporters seeing that we're sticking up for them... [and it] will help affirm their duties." 

But Maya and her family allege that reporting Beata for Munchausen syndrome by proxy and forcibly separating the family amounted to false imprisonment, medical malpractice and infliction of emotional distress — and led Beata to hang herself in the family's garage in January 2017.

A doctor who had previously prescribed Maya's ketamine treatments told the court that his prescribed regimen was medically sound — but, in opposition, emeritus professor of anesthesiology and chief of pain management at the Stanford School of Medicine Dr. Elliot Krane told the court this week that the experimental treatment was dangerous and illegal in the U.S. 

In previous court hearings, JHAC's attorney Howard Hunter said JHAC believed Maya was "given levels of medication they had never heard of before, that the literature did not support," per earlier reporting by Fox News Digital.

Staff made the call fearing that Maya's mother suffered from Munchausen by proxy and was making her daughter sick, Hunter has argued. 

In court, the teen has said that the ketamine treatment improved symptoms that would leave her screaming in pain. 

"This is the life of Maya Kowalski today," Shapiro told the court. "We did not aggravate a pre-existing condition. She's at her prom, she's out in heels, has friends — it's in complete contradiction to her testimony. 

Several of the social media photos were admitted into evidence despite protests from Maya's attorneys. 

Before resting its case, the defense showed video depositions from Maya, her father Jack Kowalski and her uncle Scott Kowalski. 

Maya said in her deposition that her symptoms have receded – she currently only takes Claritin for allergies and a sleeping pill, she said, and enjoys running, swimming and ice skating. 

Jack testified that he no longer sees signs of his daughter's alleged CRPS.

But in her rebuttal, Maya told the court that her smiling photos at prom and other events are not proof that she is no longer in pain, and that she often masks her symptoms. 

"I cried for an hour to my dad before that picture was taken because of how bad my leg pain was," she told jurors on Tuesday. "I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to go. That was my physical condition and mental condition." 

The teen explained that she didn't want to disappoint her boyfriend, who had already purchased tickets for the homecoming dance where she was pictured. 

"I did not post that picture, meaning the defense went as far as to look up my friends' account," she continued.

Maya testified that her pain level was at a "seven or eight" that day, per courtroom footage. Her current symptoms, she said, include lesions and discolorations in her right leg. She currently experiences involuntary jerking in her body, she said — those jerking motions started "after Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital," she said Tuesday.

Shapiro said after court Tuesday, per a recording shared with Fox News Digital, that he was "very confident" after his closing arguments. 

Staff at JHAC suspected that Beata Kowalski was suffering Munchausen syndrome by proxy after she pushed for unapproved ketamine treatment for her daughter's condition. (WTVT)

JHAC previously told Fox News Digital in a statement that the hospital's priority is "always the safety and privacy" of its "patients and their families."

1 comment:

  1. A Florida jury on Thursday awarded more than $200 million in damages to the family of Maya Kowalski, who alleged in a 2018 civil suit that the actions of staff at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital (JHAC) in St. Petersburg ultimately drove Maya's mother, Beata Kowalski, to suicide in 2017.

    The jury found that JHAC had falsely imprisoned Maya, fraudulently billed her family and caused them severe emotional distress. The jury also determined that social worker Catherine Bedy had battered Maya, and Dr. Sally Smith had medically neglected Maya, who was ten years old when she was admitted to JHAC for a rare medical condition.

    Maya cried and grasped a rosary in her hand as the jury's decision was read aloud in court.

    Later on Thursday, the jury awarded a total $50 million in punitive damages to the Kowalski family.

    Howard Hunter, an attorney from Hill Ward Henderson who represented JHAC in this case, thanked the jury for their "time and attention" in a statement to Fox News Digital. He added that JHAC plans to appeal the decision "based on clear and prejudicial errors throughout the trial and deliberate conduct by plaintiff’s counsel that misled the jury."

    "The evidence clearly showed that [JHAC] followed Florida’s mandatory reporting law in reporting suspected child abuse and, when those suspicions were confirmed by the district court, fully complied with Department of Children and Families (DCF) and court orders," Hunter said. "We are determined to defend the vitally important obligation of mandatory reporters to report suspected child abuse and protect the smallest and most vulnerable among us. The facts and the law remain on our side, and we will continue to defend the lifesaving and compassionate care provided to Maya Kowalski by the physicians, nurses and staff of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the responsibility of all mandatory reporters in Florida to speak up if they suspect child abuse."