A teenager whose account of how her mother took her own life after she was accused of Munchausen-by-proxy, which was at the centre of a recent Netflix documentary, shared a heartbreaking letter to her family as the trial continued.
Maya Kowalski took to the stand before the jury entered the courtroom on Tuesday, as her lawyer argued why the letter should be admitted into evidence in the $200m Florida lawsuit.
Her family allege that doctors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital separated the then-nine-year-old from her family after accusing her of faking symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).
Their story was featured in Netflix’s Take Care of Maya documentary, which alleged Maya’s mother Beata took her own life after she was denied access to her daughter for 87 days.
Maya, now 17, said on Tuesday that she had written a letter to her family to express “how much I missed them” but that she did not want to be too “explicit” about her condition for fear that doctors would not have sent the letter on.
“At the time, I desperately missed my family and wasn’t really able to have any contact with them,” she said, according to Fox13.
“In this document, I’m expressing (that) I miss them. I was extremely depressed.”
The judge later allowed the document, which contains a small drawing of Maya and her family encased in a heart, to be admitted into evidence.
The youngster was brought to an emergency room at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in October 2016 to seek help for CRPS syndrome, a rare and debilitating disease.
Maya had been taking ketamine infusion therapy for a year to treat the symptoms, her family say. When her mother Beata, a nurse, arrived at the hospital and insisted her daughter be given more ketamine, staff became suspicious and contacted a Child Abuse Hotline.
A state judge and Florida’s Department of Children and Families later sided with doctors who suspected Beata was suffering from Munchausen-by-proxy syndrome, a psychological disorder where parents fabricate their child’s illness.
Maya was ordered to be held in the hospital by the judge, and prevented from seeing Beata, and after 87 days the 43-year-old took her own life.
Maya did not testify in front of jurors on Tuesday, though the court heard from her original paediatrician, Dr John Wassenaar, who was given the letter by her mother as part of her daughter’s medical record.
"I thought it underscored that she wasn’t being abused, people weren’t doing things to her that put her in pain" he said.
According to Fox13 he added: "It underscored to me how much she loved her parents and how much she wanted to be reunited with them."
Dr Wassenaar also testified that CRPS was “rare” in children, and that he had not experienced it presenting as a generalised pain symptom before.
Last Thursday, Maya wept in court as opening arguments in the case were presented, with her family’s lawyer Greg Anderson telling the court that she had been “falsely imprisoned, battered (and) denied communication with her family”.
Howard Hunter, representing Johns Hopkins All Children’s, lawyer Howard Hunter insisted the hospital meant no harm to Maya.
“The issue here is who is responsible for it. We will go over the facts and what the facts don’t show in terms of any connection of what was done by All Children’s and that tragic result,” Mr Hunter said, according to Fox13.
The Kowalski family is suing Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the Department of Children and Families for $55m in compensatory damages and $165m in punitive damages.
The trial is estimated to take two months.