Medical kidnapping is what happens when health professionals believe a child is being harmed by their parents. A doctor or nurse will contact Child Protective Services (CPS), who then remove the minor from the care of their parents. Maya Kowalski alleges that she was a victim of medical kidnapping in 2016 when the staff of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. alerted CPS to what they believed was abuse.
Her story is being told in a Netflix documentary titled Take Care of Maya. Sadly, it goes far beyond a medical condition that was ignored by some doctors. This led to allegations of child abuse due to Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP) lodged against Maya's mother Beata Kowalski. Maya is suing the hospital, but there is much more to this story. Here's what we know about the Kowalski family trial.
What events led to the Kowalski's upcoming trial?
When Maya was 9 years old, she began suffering from severe asthma attacks and headaches. Soon, her arms and legs were covered in mysterious lesions and her feet were cramping so much that her toes remained curled. Beata and her husband Jack, Maya's father, weren't able to get an official diagnosis from any of the doctors who saw their daughter. It was emotionally draining and incredibly frustrating to watch Maya suffer.
The Kowalski family felt hopeless, until something called complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) was suggested by one doctor. According to the Mayo Clinic, CRPS is a "form of chronic pain that usually affects an arm or a leg." While symptoms may vary, it usually begins with "swelling, redness, noticeable changes in temperature, and hypersensitivity (particularly to cold and touch)" and can lead to muscle spasms.
At this point, Beata and John reached out to Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, an expert in CRPS, who confirmed Maya's diagnosis. Her treatment course included ketamine infusions. Eventually Dr. Kirkpatrick suggested Maya be put into a ketamine coma so her nervous system could reset. Her parents agreed and in November 2015, Maya's symptoms did in fact improve. "I felt amazing," Maya told People Magazine in an interview.
Unfortunately, in October 2016 Maya was brought to All Children’s Hospital due to severe stomach pain. Despite explaining to the medical staff that Maya had CRPS, they refused to treat her with ketamine. Furthermore, this request made staff so uneasy that they contacted CPS. After an investigation, they believed Beata had MSP and was making Maya sick. She was immediately removed from the custody of her parents.
Things took a turn for the worse after Maya was medically kidnapped.
Although a court-ordered psychological evaluation of Beata determined she wasn't suffering from MSP, the damage was already done. Maya was a ward of the state and stayed in the hospital for more than three months. Legally, she wasn't able to see her parents. "One day I was in the ICU, and my mom kissed me on the forehead and was like, ‘I love you. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ I never saw her again," Maya told the outlet.
Beata was hit hard by this separation. "She would stay up and research and hardly eat," Jack told People. The final straw came when a judge denied Beata the right to even hug her own child. In January 2017, Beata took her own life. In an email found after her death, Beata wrote, "I’m sorry, but I no longer can take the pain being away from Maya and being treated like a criminal. I cannot watch my daughter suffer in pain and keep getting worse."
Where is Maya Kowalski now? The date for the Kowalski family trial has been set.
Mere days after Beata's suicide, Maya was home but wasn't legally able to use ketamine as a form of treatment. On top of that, she was also dealing with the pain of losing her mother. As of June 2023, Maya is has regained use of her arms and legs, and is doing better although she is gripped by flare-ups from time-to-time.
Something that pushes Maya forward is getting justice for her mother. "For us as a family to move on, we need to fulfill my mom’s wish and fight," explained Maya. The trial is scheduled for September 2023.
A spokesperson from Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital told People that, "Our first responsibility is always to the child brought to us for care, and we are legally obligated to notify the Department of Children and Families (DCF) when we detect signs of possible abuse or neglect."
"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."
Take Care of Maya is currently streaming on Netflix.