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Who is to blame in ‘Take Care of Maya?

Mark Parker

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Beata Kowalski (right), with her daughter Maya. An attorney from Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital provided court documents that suggest staff had every reason to believe Beata was abusing her daughter, while a family attorney countered those claims. Screengrab, Netflix.

Part Three in a three-part series.

Despite highlighting several videotaped depositions and recorded conversations between hospital staff and Maya Kowalski’s mother, Netflix’s Take Care of Maya is often necessarily one-sided.

At the center of the popular documentary is Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, recently recognized as Florida’s top pediatric facility. Attorney Ethen Shapiro said strict patient privacy laws prevent him or his client from discussing certain aspects of the ongoing legal dispute over whether Maya’s court-ordered caregivers falsely imprisoned and battered the then 10-year-old.

“However, should the Kowalskis agree to a complete release of Maya’s medical records and allow me to discuss her treatment with you, I can provide you with more information,” Shapiro wrote in an email to the Catalyst.

While a family attorney offered several rebuttals, what Shapiro provided suggests that All Children’s had myriad reasons to suspect the girl’s mother, Beata, of medical abuse in 2016. A judge eventually agreed and ordered Maya to shelter at the hospital for three months.

Beata, then 43, hung herself in the family’s Venice garage after 87 days without her daughter. The documentary shows a doctor’s text messages that suggest her suicide was further proof that Beata suffered from Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy (MSBP) – a mental illness where caretakers fake or produce medical symptoms in someone else, typically their child, for attention and control.

Damning documents

All Children’s immunity motion states that staff suspected Maya, now 17, was a medical abuse victim “from the first day.” It also notes her “absurd (redacted) regimen.”

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in downtown St. Petersburg. File photo.

Maya was 9 when she began experiencing a burning sensation in her extremities, and a Tampa specialist eventually diagnosed her with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Symptoms include spontaneous and debilitating pain, muscle wasting and impaired movement. He prescribed high doses of ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic.

Maya’s parents also took her to Mexico for a controversial ketamine coma therapy, which the document states “carried a serious risk of death.” The girl and her parents said she improved for about a year following that trip.

Her father, Jack, rushed her to the hospital’s emergency room in October 2016 after a relapse. Here are some of “the most troubling” claims from the oft-redacted immunity motion excerpt Shapiro provided:

  • Several doctors “personally observed that Mrs. Kowalski was aggressively hostile towards providers who disagreed with her, screaming and demanding the Maya be placed into a medically induced coma and have a pump implanted in her spine.”
  • Beata once stated that “Maya was in so much pain, she ‘wants to go to heaven.’”
  • Doctors observed that Maya “acted inconsistent with her and her mother’s claims of severe pain and disability … including standing up in her bed and sitting ‘Indian style.’”
  • The girl told a nurse she was “tired of these lies.”
  • “Maya was severely underweight and hadn’t eaten for five days before arriving … because she wasn’t ‘allowed.’”

The document notes that other facilities, including Tampa General Hospital, also suspected Beata of medical abuse. It adds that if the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), two circuit judges and a sheriff’s deputy “found probable cause to suspect abuse, the conclusion is inescapable” that All Children’s also had reasonable cause to suspect and report a potential crime.

“Most disturbingly is that Jack Kowalksi admitted to the police investigator that he witnessed the same concerning behavior from his wife that the medical professionals witnessed,” wrote Shapiro. “When he was with Maya, Maya had no complaints of pain; when Maya’s mother got home, Maya would suddenly be in pain.”

Shapiro, and the documentary, noted that Jack said he would insist that Beata leave the house if it meant his daughter could return home. According to another court document, Jack agreed that there is a psychological component to his daughter’s condition.

Graham told the father that doctors believed there was “zero reason” why Maya couldn’t walk. Jack replied, “I swear to God, I wish they were right.”

The Kowalski family, from left: Maya, Jack, Beata and Kyle, as seen in “Take Care of Maya.” Photo: Netflix.

Rebuttals

Nick Whitney represents the Kowalksis in their ongoing quest to seek compensatory and punitive damages against the hospital. He stressed that staff suspecting child abuse did not permit them to harm the girl.

Court documents state that a social worker and nurse held Maya down, stripped her to a sports bra and shorts and photographed her without consent. They also secretly videotaped the girl in her hospital room for 48 hours.

In the documentary, Maya said she had “good days and bad days” with CRPS symptoms. She, her father and family attorneys dispute claims that her condition improved during her stay at All Children’s.

Attorney Debra M. Salisbury said in the film that Jack acted like any other father would in that situation – he said what he thought authorities wanted to hear to bring his daughter home. Whitney noted that fathers are typically stoic, and mothers are more comforting, which would explain Maya’s duplicitous behavior around her parents.

“This detective came in and threatened Jack Kowalski with criminal prosecution … and that if he did not go along with the investigation, that he was going to lose his kids,” Whitney added. “And suggested to him that he had one of two choices – he could either choose to be complicit in the abuse or he could start agreeing with her loaded questions.”

Nick Whitney, of the Kowalskis’ attorneys.

Court documents show that Graham said her investigation “appeared to be moving towards a criminal case” until Beata’s suicide. However, she also said the “complex case” required several additional interviews before filing charges, and it wasn’t her job to assign guilt.

Whitney said secretly taped footage of Maya – hospital staff referred to her as “Ketamine girl” in text messages – showed her “languishing in bed.” He said officials didn’t release the tape during shelter hearings because it didn’t fit their narrative.

Shapiro also pointed to testimony from Dr. Carl Barr that suggests Beata was fraudulently filling prescriptions under the physician’s name. While the provided court document was heavily redacted, Barr testified that he had no recollection of prescribing the medication in question.

Whitney attributed that to information not aligning on an insurance spreadsheet. He said prescription control numbers show another doctor prescribed ketamine and noted no evidence supports the claim that Beata fraudulently filled any medications.

While nearly everything in Take Care of Maya is up for debate, some aspects are indisputable. Whitney said all parties agreed to have an independent pain management specialist at Brown University evaluate Maya, who confirmed the girl suffered from CRPS.

Maya returned to her father’s custody shortly thereafter, five days after her mother committed suicide. Beata left letters suggesting that she felt that was the only way to bring her daughter home.

A judge ruled the family could seek punitive damages for false imprisonment and battery following a lengthy appeal process. The public will hear more details when the case goes before a jury in September.

Whitney explained the two reasons why the family has fought for their day in court since 2019:

“First, to vindicate Beata and to validate Maya’s suffering, and all of their suffering, and hold them (All Children’s) accountable for that,” he said. “And second, which kind of ties into what the documentary has accomplished, is to shine a light on this conduct by the hospital and the mistreatment of Maya as a CRPS patient.

“So that hospitals – Johns Hopkins, especially – don’t do this again.”

Read Part One here and Part Two here.

 

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Avatar

    C Lyczkowski

    December 4, 2023at2:23 pm

    So I wonder what you all have to say now that the family has won! For those of you who dare to make comments about Munchhausen’s by proxy, I ask, where did you go to medical school and tell me about your training as a psychiatrist? I am an advanced practice nurse who was once accused of starving my kid for “3 or 4 days,” when I asked about my son’s glucose level in the emergency room. After which I asked the doctor if he was accusing me of child abuse and that he “better watch his mouth because I would not hesitate to sue his medical license off his @$$.” I then demanded, that my son be seen by every specialist in the hospital and that they look at every single body system. Turns out my kid had adrenoleukodystrophy which had destroyed his adrenal glands, hence the reason for his glucose level being so low. He ultimately underwent a bone marrow transplant, something that was still being researched for children with x-linked adrenoleukodystrophy which too had a high chance of killing him. In my professional opinion, the hospital got what it deserved, Sally Smith was successively sued for 2.5 million dollars by the Kowalski family deservedly so, and Cathy Bedy should have been arrested a second time for child abuse, yes, I said a second time. Cathy Bedy was arrested for kneeling on a boy’s chest, was found to have anger management issues, and was the only person associated with this case to have a mental health issue, and she still practices with her license to this day. As a nurse, there are so many disturbing things related to this case, the social worker, the doctors, and all the nurses in this case should have been brought up on charges of abuse for failing to practice under their legal scope of practice. Nothing they did or did not do is even closely considered as advocating for the patient, the number one responsibility of any practicing nurse! One commenter asked the question, “Why all that money?” You really have to ask that question. This is something that should not ever have happened! The Kowalki’s wanted vindication for Beata and to help ensure this never happened to another patient and family! The Jury having heard all the testimony in this case agreed with the Kowalski family. They vindicated Beata’s death and money sure as hell makes people sit up and pay attention. I am going to go out on a limb here and say, I bet JHACHA never does this again. Finally, the hospital attorneys kept suggesting that they were not the party imprisoning Maya and blamed DCF instead. However, there was evidence that a psychiatrist who actually assessed Beata stated that she DID NOT have Munchausen Syndrome by proxy! This most assuredly would have been put in the medical record. The hospital was aware that the very reason the court ordered the Shelter Order was invalidated by someone qualified to make that diagnosis, a psychiatrist! Not an ER doctor, not an internist, not a pain management specialist, nor a doctor of physical therapy, or any other doctor for that matter, other than a psychiatrist or psychologist can make that diagnosis. Until any of you have walked in another’s shoes you simply don’t know what you are talking about. They are just opinions, and you know what they say about layperson opinions!

  2. Avatar

    Henry Eastman

    November 8, 2023at3:42 pm

    Back show that Maya was Ill before she came to Children’s Hospital. The hospital did not cause it. The medical treatment they gave her work to a large degree. Look at the young lady now she’s a great physically and intellectually class president High grades Etc. Medicine is not perfect; that’s why they call it a practice. The hospital didn’t imprison her a judge ordered it. Three other professionals agreed the mother was causing her illness. Her father even agreed her mother is the cause who acts differently when she walks in the room. The young woman I’m sorry to say is learned how to play the victim role. She smiles a lot then gets on the stand and cries. Children often model of the behavior of their parents. That’s a fact. Maya’s mother was a troubled woman to the point where she gave the excuse of suicide as being best for her daughter? Suicide can be the ultimate in playing the victim role. They took this feeling of victimization to a lawyer and naturally we now have a multimillion dollar lawsuit! If this Hospital were so bad and this bad there would be hundreds of lawsuits against it. There are not! There’s tens of thousands of young women a lot worse off, going to bed hungry if they have a bed at all and no money to get any medical care many grow up to be successes. Just like m a y a will if people stopped feeling sorry for her and dangling millions of dollars in front of her eyes. I haven’t heard this young woman or her dad thank the hospital for helping make her what she is today once. If you go by feelings there might be one or two jurors who feel sorry for her and order money on that basis which would be outright wrong. If you go by the facts the hospital has done nothing wrong and Maya should be grateful

  3. Avatar

    Lisa Short

    October 6, 2023at9:39 pm

    Yes I agree with Catherine , why so much money ?

  4. Avatar

    Lisa

    September 22, 2023at7:04 pm

    Yes I agree with Catherine,

  5. Avatar

    Sharon

    July 30, 2023at8:06 am

    I just finished watching this and having read the other comments I find myself agreeing with Catherine, to most part. I don’t know a lot about Munchausen and can’t comment on that bit though. The film started off well intended but then went off slightly one sided. I was disappointed with its reliance on the use of images of distressed parents and crying children to evoke emotional reactions from viewers. I can see now why the show got so many likes.
    A few things stood out for me. The show identifies that parents would go to great lengths to protect their children. That parents and medical staff don’t always agree on treatment in some cases. That hospitals have a responsibility to raise concerns when they suspect abuse. That social services should spend more than 10 mins gathering information and have more open conversations when possible. That not all physical reactions are health reasons but could be mental health (yes! Believe it or not for example severe panic attacks can share same physical symptoms as having a heart attack). I would have liked to know more about how much help or therapy the family received with dealing with grief from the mother’s suicide as the family looked really depressed (or perhaps that’s how Netflix wanted to capture it on camera). And this may be controversial but I wonder if this case would have made it to film if it weren’t for the mother’s suicide and I hope that the family aren’t being used by Netflix to make a profit.

  6. Avatar

    Emm

    July 18, 2023at11:01 am

    Catherine thank you for adding all that context! I worry that medical child abuse cases will be missed because doctors will be afraid to report. Kids need to be protected FIRST. Doctors are mandated reporters.

  7. Avatar

    Uglytruth

    July 18, 2023at2:02 am

    Catherine: you rock. Now I don’t have to type all that.
    It goes to show how easily people can be manipulated. The mother killed herself in less than 3 months away from the kid! Major red flag.

  8. Avatar

    Chasity

    July 17, 2023at11:24 pm

    This is so twisted what they did to that family. I have been a social worker for over 15 years and I have seen things like this done because you say the wrong thing or you butt heads with the wrong person. Absolutely DISTURBING. And also these 10 minute interviews happen every day where they barely interview the family and then make life-changing decisions.

  9. Avatar

    Catherine

    July 14, 2023at5:45 pm

    I cannot believe how many people are taking this Netflix movie at face value. The film cherry-picked details and left so much damning information out about Beata and her accusations of medical abuse.

    Per Dr Hanna’s testimony, Beata was never supposed to be administering ketamine through Maya’s port at home as it was an oral medication to be administered once per day but she did it anyway every 3.5 hours. Dr. Hanna felt uncomfortable with the dose she was receiving and refused to raise it more in spite of Beata’s protests. Shortly before Maya’s hospitalization he told Beata and Jack that if it wasn’t working on this high of a dose it was a failed treatment option for them and they needed to move on from it and Beata did not accept this.

    Maya was also hospitalized for a month at Tampa General where the hospital also reported Beata to CPS, put surveillance in Mayas room, and suggested to Jack that Beata needed to be separated from Maya to get better. Jack also details the “relapse” that was not actually caused by a hurricane but by Maya’s homebound schooling application being denied for whatever reason. Beata was attempting to pull her from school during that time.

    Beata at one point had wanted to place her daughter in hospice to eventually end her life, but this was denied.

    Also, if Maya was diagnosed in July 2015 and was admitted to Johns Hopkins in Oct 2016, about a year after her ketamine-induced coma in Mexico, that means she had that treatment in Mexico sometime around October 2015. This means it was only about 3 months time from initial diagnosis to undergoing treatment that had significant risk of death! How in the heck can any parent jump to the most severe treatment in 3 months? Especially when we saw all that “cured” here was… simple physical therapy. You would think a nurse would know this.

    Munchausen by proxy:
    1. Almost all cases women
    2. Majority of cases are mother with daughter victim
    3. Significantly more likely to work in medicine, especially as a nurse
    4. More likely to have had trouble conceiving the child
    5. Switches doctors and clinics often
    6. Does not start with conservative treatment, but jumps to extreme treatments first

    Not saying she had Munchausen by proxy, but….

  10. Avatar

    Kesia Bautista

    July 4, 2023at2:12 pm

    PR team for hospital is working harder than the Devil. Let’s not forget how the hospital had the audacity to charge Maya’s insurance for treatment for an illness the swore up and down she did not have. Also how they employed Sally Smith who has a track record of falsely accusing many parents of abuse without any base or evidence just because it makes money. How many children has she traumatized by medically abducting them? And the Hospital is as much to blame for being complicit to these crimes.

  11. Avatar

    JT

    July 2, 2023at1:55 am

    I dunno, those statements by the family and her standing when she supposedly never could when taped seem dangerously suspect. Also, in the documentary, the family seems extremely fake, maybe that’s just from being coached by attorneys but it didn’t help.

    One thing is true, CPS is crooked. Think that’s something everyone agrees on. However it would be really good to know all the evidence because stuff seems really fishy here and Netflix only showed the side from the family.

  12. Avatar

    Lisa Sternberg

    July 2, 2023at1:48 am

    Mothers will do anything – anything- to make a child better. I’ve Lived through it. After what I( had been through, I was repeatedly told to sue – but honestly – I was just so damn glad my child wasn’t dying that I didn’t care. 1.5 years of hospitals, NICU, no diagnosis, hints of “what did you do”, only to find that changing physicians from the hospital-related doctors was my miracle. AND THIS WAS FROM *a stand-in-rotating physician, whose recommendation and opinion was that the pain and residual that my kid (and I) was experiencing was bulls*t AND COULD BE CURED BY DIFF PHYSICIAN. He was a new, and rotating physician that should have never come across us if I wasn’t so loud. Frankly, he saved my kid, and my sanity. My baby, after everything they put her through, including ” now debunked” procedures, is doing fine. No thanks to the “very, very top-rated” hospital; and physicians. My kid has since had to go thru an “undo” of what supposed specialists from the hospital did to “heal” her. Major scars, and thankfully just a little memory. A second opinion is shi! -Go outside the “network”, every time, if you can’t get a diagnosis. The BS involved in this show is REAL. I lived it.

  13. Avatar

    Aaron

    June 30, 2023at5:01 pm

    I think the mother clearly had legit Munchausen by Proxy and there’s a chance that she would have killed Maya at some point. There’s plenty of documented cases of this terrible psychological disorder.

  14. Avatar

    Jim Broatch

    June 29, 2023at11:21 am

    Thank you for focusing on this outrage. For up-to-date information on diagnosing and managing CRPS, please visit rsds.org #CRPS #RSDSA #pediatricpain

  15. Avatar

    Chel moore

    June 28, 2023at11:37 pm

    The hospitals are made of people with human error, so the thing for patients and hospitals is to get a patient advocacy for every rare and all illness and have those trained to help advocate for the patient. It will cut the hospital dealing with the families direct and will get a person in between to help the patient having. A voice. Kids don’t want to be sick and parents do NOT want to watch their kids suffer, hospitals are human error a lot and of the times ! This is so sad! Children with illness need advocates to know and understand what they are going through and if the advocate is certified in the disease or Illness it can help educate others, drs, lawyers ! Advocate groups need to raise up
    Be a voice for those where power is taking control and not hearing the truth. The truth sets you free!

  16. Avatar

    wahl

    June 28, 2023at2:44 pm

    Dr. Smith and Cathi Bedy are to blame along with the nursing staff and the doctors at John Hopkins Hospital – they were the ones that involved Dr. Smith and Cathi in the first place. But the majority of the blame falls on Dr. Smith and Cathi Bedy! I think they should lose their licenses and placed in prison! They both drove this mother to her breaking point, and this was what they intended on doing. John Hopkins is to blame too, they should have never allowed this to happen, and they backed their providers/staff 100% of the way. The state should have did their own investigate and not be biased because the hospital said this was child abuse. I think this family should stand strong the people of USA are standing beside you to vindicate Beata Kowalski! I was outraged that this was allowed to happen that the state, courts and hospital did this to this family. YOU proved NOTHING! Except that you ruined a family and many other families.

  17. Avatar

    Jordi

    June 27, 2023at10:18 am

    99% of the people are with the family. We are not stupid to see all the issues and it was the family against the state, the hospital and a lot of money.

  18. Avatar

    Page Obenshain

    June 27, 2023at10:04 am

    What did the mother put in the child to make her sick?

    2 Hospitals said it was abuse.

    All Children’s treated the child for her diagnosed issues. What did they do wrong?

    Dr. Smith who kept the child away from her mom did not work for the hospital.

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