A Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital attorney previously told the Catalyst that Netflix’s Take Care of Maya was often one-sided.
Ethen Shapiro said strict patient privacy laws prevented him from discussing aspects of a civil lawsuit alleging that Maya Kowalski’s court-ordered caregivers falsely imprisoned and battered the then 10-year-old. The documentary was viewed nearly 14 million times in the two weeks following its June release.
The St. Petersburg-based hospital’s attorneys now have a chance to tell their version of events. While Maya’s mother committed suicide, All Children’s officials believe they may have saved the girl’s life.
Howard Hunter, the hospital’s lead counsel, presented his opening statements Sept. 21 in a Venice courtroom. He told the jury that over 40 specialists from Lee to Hillsborough Counties believed there was a psychological component to Maya’s condition.
“All Children’s didn’t blaze this trail,” Hunter said. “We found it on our own, but we walked it. So did these other folks – all 40 of them.”
One expressed concern that her mother, Beata Kowalksi, suffered from Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy (MSBP) – a mental illness where caretakers imagine or produce medical symptoms in someone else, typically their child, for attention and control. “That was not an unreasonable thing for Johns Hopkins to ultimately come around to believe,” Hunter added.
Multiple news outlets have reported that the Kowalksi family is suing the hospital for $220 million in compensatory and punitive damages. In addition to false imprisonment and battery, the 2018 lawsuit alleges that All Children’s was negligent in its medical treatments and caused severe emotional duress, which led to the mother’s suicide.
The lawsuit begins with Maya’s Oct. 7, 2016, admittance to All Children’s. However, Hunter noted that the Kowalskis repeatedly bypassed multiple Sarasota County hospitals in favor of the St. Petersburg institution before that date.
“Presumably, we vindicated their trust … and they came back to see us on Oct. 7,” he said. “Indeed, there’s a tragic outcome in this case, in terms of Mrs. Kowalski’s suicide, and we regret very much that it happened. The issue here, however, is who is responsible.
“We’re going to go over the facts of that and what the facts don’t show – in terms of a connection between what was done by All Children’s and that tragic result.”
Hunter said Maya received 55 ketamine doses in the nine months before she arrived at the hospital. A Tampa pain specialist previously diagnosed the girl with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, with symptoms including spontaneous and debilitating pain, muscle wasting and impaired movement.
He prescribed high doses of ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic. Hunter noted that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved its use in children, and certainly not in the amounts given to Maya.
He explained that her primary care doctor gave Maya 1,250 milligrams of ketamine the day before her fateful trip to All Children’s. Hunter said the girl received 12 times the “safe and effective dose” approved by the hospital or “talked about by the FDA.”
He added that Beata Kowalski insisted All Children’s doctors give the child a 1,500-milligram dose the following day. Hunter said a malnourished Maya was on 21 other medications at the time.
Hospital officials, as required by law, twice reported her mother to the state’s abuse hotline. A judge ordered Maya to shelter at the hospital for nearly three months.
Beata Kowalski, 43, hung herself after 87 days without seeing her daughter. Greg Anderson, lead counsel for the family, said, “The knowledge of the systematic abuse of her child in the hospital caused her, at the end, to lose … her ability to control her maternal instinct.
“That outweighed her survival instinct.”
Tears streamed down Maya’s face as her attorney described her mother fashioning belts into a noose and hanging herself in the family’s Venice garage.
Anderson’s opening statements mostly mirrored the information presented in the documentary. The family claims that a social worker, Catherine Bedy, held Maya down, stripped her down to a sports bra and shorts and photographed her without parental permission and against her will.
Bedy played a key role in multiple allegations. However, court records show the family dropped her from the civil suit during the second day of jury selection and will no longer pursue damages.
Anderson said All Children’s duty to notify the Department of Children and Families (DCF) of suspected child abuse was not part of the litigation. “You’re supposed to make the call; that’s not a bad thing,” he added.
“This case is about what happens after that … so that none of this ever happened,” Anderson said. “Maya was falsely imprisoned and battered. She was told her mother was crazy by social workers. One in particular said she would be her mother.”
Anderson spent 78 minutes establishing the family’s case against the hospital. Hunter spent 71 minutes explaining All Children’s motives for the first time since the case made global headlines.
Witnesses for the family began testifying Friday. Both attorneys said the trial would span several weeks.