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A Florida family is facing off against a hospital in court, saying staff callously dismissed a teenage girl’s debilitating condition and falsely claimed the mother was making it up.
According to the complaint from Pinellas County, the mother, Beata Kowalski, died by suicide because of the turmoil that the hospital created. State authorities had had her daughter in the custody of the hospital for more than three months.
“Defendants imprisoned Maya at [Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg] with no legal justification,” the lawsuit said.
Beata’s widower, Jack Kowalski, filed the lawsuit. The complaint said their daughter, Maya Kowalski, showed signs of a debilitating condition called complex regional pain syndrome since 2015 when she was 9.
In this condition, the body misinterprets even light touches as excruciating pain, resulting in symptoms such as stiffness, spasms, and limited mobility. The complaint used words like “burning, bone-crushing, shooting and stabbing” to describe the sensation.
Eventually, specialists recommended Maya take ketamine as treatment.
Ketamine is a clinically accepted form of treatment that blocks pain receptors and allows the patient’s body to revise the sensitization process, the complaint said.
It was successful, though she would continue to experience flare-ups of her symptoms.
According to the complaint, it was after one such flare-up in October 2016 that her parents took her to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
The lawsuit claims staff dismissed the parents’ instructions and even expertise from Maya’s specialists on how to treat her, even though the hospital staff lacked clinical or academic experience with CRPS.
Staff also failed to do their treatments with her physical pain in mind, according to the complaint:
During the course of their examination, certain JHACH personnel also indicated they wanted Maya to undergo medical procedures necessitating physical contact with the patient that would be painful for a CRPS patient, such as applying a blood pressure cuff and undergoing scans. While seemingly benign and innocuous to physicians unfamiliar with CRPS, such contact can and often does cause flare-ups of the condition. Maya’s parents informed JHACH that Maya’s CRPS required certain precautions in performing these tests and examinations to reduce the amount of discomfort and pain for their daughter.
The complaint accuses staff of becoming “offended and defensive” by the parents’ suggestions on how to treat Maya.
This situation allegedly escalated to a hospital social worker reporting Beata Kowalski to the Florida Department of Children and Families. When the DCF investigator quickly took Beata’s side, hospital staff refused to let Maya go even though the parents wanted her transferred, the complaint said. Staff allegedly reached out again to DCF and made false allegations about Beata.
a. Mom had suspected mental issues; b. Mom was requesting Maya to be placed in a coma using pain medications; c. Mom got angry at Maya when she woke up and said she felt good and hungry; d. Mom was refusing Maya a donut when she got hungry; e. Mom was giving Maya unauthorized IV medications at home; f. Mom is believed to have mental issues; and g. Maya was not actually in pain.
Overcome with grief and shock, Beata fainted in the courtroom on learning they would take her daughter, the lawsuit stated.
Losing Maya for months upended the family’s life.
From the complaint:
Jack and Beata struggled to explain the capricious actions of the Defendants and provide [their son] Kyle with a sense of normalcy and allow him to visit and support his beloved sister. They struggled to reconcile the abuse of corporate and State power that was tearing apart their family after the previous year and a half of exhausting, financially-straining medical care for Maya. In doing so, they petitioned the court and sought review of the sheltering order on numerous occasions and, at each instance, continued to face Dr. Smith’s, JHACH’s, and its attorneys unrelenting and knowingly false accusations and misrepresentations, often made under oath. The resulting prolonged separation from their suffering daughter manifested in Beata’s depression, fatigue and overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Beata voiced this depression and fatigue to JHACH and Dr. Smith, which to any reasonably trained physician indicated a possibility of suicide or other self-harm. Despite specific and documented warning signs, JHACH and Dr. Smith continued a campaign of degradation and threats towards the Kowalskis, and specifically, Beata.
Beata died of suicide on Jan. 7, 2017. Six days later, the state finally let Jack care for Maya again.
A court-appointed psychologist testified that Maya’s condition was legitimate, and her parents were following the advice of specialists, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit is the subject of a Netflix documentary “Take Care of Maya.”
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