Maya Kowalski, a 10-year-old girl who went to the ER complaining of unexplained and agonising pain. Take Care of Maya, a Netflix documentary, is inspired by her tale.
On November 9, 2023, a Florida jury awarded Maya’s family $211 million after suing Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg for more than $200 million, alleging false imprisonment, medical negligence, battery, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims.
Maya’s journey began when she was born to Jack and Beata Kowalski, who struggled to have a child at first. Beata worked as an infusion nurse and Jack was a former firefighter. The Kowalskis’ lives were going well until one day in 2015, when Maya began experiencing symptoms ranging from hazy vision to excruciating pain.
After seeing a number of doctors who were unable to determine the cause of Maya’s condition, an expert in Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, diagnosed her with the disease and began recommending a Ketamine infusion treatment, which had proven to be effective in many patients before Maya. A CRPS sufferer experiences spontaneous periods of excruciating pain that are far worse than regular discomfort. Even a light touch can cause excruciating pain.
Fortunately, the Ketamine infusion helped Maya, and she improved substantially, but she couldn’t walk still. Maya’s condition necessitated the use of massive doses of Ketamine. When the Kowalskis were no longer able to afford Dr. Kirkpatrick’s care, they were sent to Dr. Ashraf Hanna, who continued to prescribe low-doses of the medication. The situation was fine until an unlucky day in October 2016 when the family’s luck ran out.
Maya relapsed on October 7, 2016, and her parents rushed her to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital after she complained of stomach ache. Jack quickly discovered that the doctors at the hospital were unaware of Maya’s illness, and he forced them to speak with Beata, who insisted on high-dose Ketamine infusions. This seems to have triggered the doctors’ suspicions about child abuse, which were swiftly confirmed when they saw that the low-dose Ketamine infusion was having no effect on Maya’s condition. As a result, the doctors reported the incident to Child Protection Services, which led to Dr. Sally Smith’s admission. Dr. Smith evidently concluded after a 10-minute discussion with Jack that Maya would be transferred into state custody.
Dr. Smith’s conclusion, which is not seen in the programme, resulted in Maya’s custody being taken away from the Kowalskis. Interestingly, Dr. Kirkpatrick explains in the documentary that he sent objective proof about Maya’s diagnosis to Dr. Smith, but she did not mention it in her report. The hospital barred Maya from contacting her mother. Beata was then subjected to a psychological test, which found that she did not suffer from Munchausen syndrome via proxy.
Dr. Smith was convinced that Maya had been subjected to child medical abuse, and Beata was diagnosed with Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a type of mental illness and child abuse in which a child’s carer creates the appearance that their child requires medical attention, either through fake or real symptoms.