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Jury selection begins Thursday for the alleged medical abuse case that broke a Florida family apart and inspired the Netflix documentary “Take Care of Maya.”
In 2016, at just 10 years old, Maya Kowalski — the girl at the center of the Netflix documentary — was admitted to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital (JHAC) in St. Petersburg, Florida, for severe pain and then promptly removed from the custody of her parents after staff accused them of “medical abuse.”
Her mother, Beata Kowalski, hung herself in her garage on Jan. 7, 2016, “to free her daughter” after going months without seeing her due to the medical abuse allegations, according to the family’s attorney, Greg Anderson.
“It’s been extremely difficult on the Kowalskis after [what] they went through and … it’s disappointing, the level of litigation they have to go through to get their right to speak in court,” Anderson told Fox News Digital ahead of jury selection. “It’s been overwhelming for my law firm, my other clients and my family.”
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“The Netflix doc told a little bit of the story, but there’s a lot more to it.” he added.
“Take Care of Maya” follows the story of Maya and Beata, a registered nurse, as they navigate Maya’s rare, chronic neurological condition called complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) – a poorly understood affliction that causes severe pain throughout a person’s body due to nervous system dysfunction, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
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Maya’s father sued JHAC and medical personnel assigned to his daughter’s treatment in 2018, alleging the hospital falsely accused Beata of medically abusing Maya and failing to properly care for his daughter, causing his family emotional distress.
“It’s a convenient way to get rid of troublesome parents, particularly parents that are complaining about a lack of care or attention on their child,” Anderson said of child medical abuse claims made against families with hospitalized children.
Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, who specializes in pain relief, initially diagnosed Maya with CRPS when she was 9 years old and helped her get treatment for the illness, which included doses of ketamine to help dull her pain. The treatment worked for a while, until she relapsed at age 10 in 2016, when she was admitted to JHAC in St. Petersburg.
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Her symptoms included “episodes” of severe pain in her limbs and skin lesions. Her feet would also turn inward when she was experiencing CRPS episodes – a common reflex for patients with CRPS.
Beata, who took meticulous notes on Maya’s illness due to her experience as an RN, insisted with doctors and nurses at the children’s hospital that Maya had been diagnosed with CRPS and that doses of ketamine help with her pain.
Hospital staff interpreted her insistence as hostility and did not believe everything she said about her daughter’s condition. As Beata demanded that staff allow Maya to take ketamine to ease her pain, Dr. Sally Smith, medical director of the Pinellas County child protection team, intervened and accused Beata of medically abusing her daughter – an accusation by which the hospital still stands after a Sarasota County court determined that staff had reasonable cause to suspect abuse.
Doctors called the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) to report their suspicions of medical abuse. Maya was put into the custody of child protective services worker Catherine Bedy at the hospital, where she remained for months without seeing her parents.
“This Court has determined that Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital reported suspected child abuse of Maya Kowalski in good faith,” a Sept. 12 request for special jury instructions states. “Neither Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital nor Catherine Bedy can be found legally liable for making that report.”
The filing notes that Maya was “lawfully taken into custody by the Department of Children and Families on October 13, 2016.”
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Anderson previously told Fox News Digital that because “Maya had been treated by a number of physicians before being properly diagnosed,” and because Smith “disagreed with the ketamine infusions as a treatment,” Smith determined that Beata was exhibiting signs of “Munchausen by proxy.”
Munchausen by proxy is a psychological disorder in which an abusive parent or caretaker makes up or causes an illness for a person in their care who is not actually ill. People affected by the disorder seek attention and sympathy, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
“You have to weave your way through an absolute maze, through at times conflicting laws and procedures, just to get here,” Anderson said of the upcoming trial. “We’re very conscious of the fact that I don’t think any other case has really succeeded in this.”
He is hoping for success in Maya’s case, however, saying that he feels “very confident if we can get our case before the jury that we’ll do well.”
“This whole case has been defended by Johns Hopkins not so much on the facts but on legal technique and technical defenses,” he said. “I personally don’t think they have much in the way of facts.”
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.”
“Therefore, we follow federal privacy laws that limit the amount of information we can release regarding any particular case. Our first responsibility is always to the child brought to us for care, and we are legally obligated to notify [DCF] when we detect signs of possible abuse or neglect,” the hospital said. “It is DCF that investigates the situation and makes the ultimate decision about what course of action is in the best interest of the child.”
A motion to obtain immunity from the hospital states that Beata Kowalski once said Maya was in so much pain that she “wants to go to heaven.” Another time, Beata allegedly said she “may as well consult hospice so she can finally get enough medication and just let her die because she doesn’t deserve to live this way,” the motion states.
Doctors who consulted with Beata and Maya prior to her time at JHAC also accused Beata of medical abuse, according to the motion. In 2015, Dr. Elvin Mendez wrote that Maya’s illness was “all being driven by the mother.” Also in 2015, doctors at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago flagged “abuse behavior” from Beata.
An investigation revealed that Beata filled out fraudulent prescriptions for her daughter’s medication and administered them to Maya through a port at home, according to the motion.
Nearly five years after the Kowalskis’ civil lawsuit was filed and seven years since Maya was initially admitted to JHAC, both sides will get to speak their piece in court.
“I’m also very cognizant of what a lot of families have gone through,” Anderson said of other child medical abuse cases similar to Maya’s. “The horror stories I’ve heard over the last four years … they’re so heartbreaking.”