Warning: Distressing content. For years doctors said that Beata Kowalski was hurting her daughter, Maya. They were very wrong. However, the constant accusations led the distraught mum to take her own life after years of watching her daughter suffer and being accused of causing it.
This complicated case, brought to light by this summer’s release of the Netflix documentary, Take Care of Maya, culminated in court on November 9th when after an eight-week trial and two days of deliberations, a six-person jury found Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg liable for falsely imprisoning and battering Maya, among other things.
The Kowalski family was awarded $261 million in damages. This is their heartbreaking story of child abuse, false imprisonment and emotional abuse. A daughter in pain, a mother falsely accused, a family torn apart and a hospital that let everyone down.
A Nine-Year-Old In Pain
Rewind to 2015.
Beata, a home care nurse and mother to Maya and Kyle, had a keen eye for detail and note-taking. She remembered her sweet 9-year-old girl having breathing problems on the 4th of July, 2015 while playing with sparklers with her brother, Kyle.
From that day on, Maya began experiencing headaches, blurred vision, and skin lesions. Her feet started to point inward (lower limb dystonia) and her skin felt as if it was on fire. Within a few weeks, Maya could barely walk.
The concerned parents sought medical help from multiple doctors without success, until they found Dr. Anthony Kirkpatric who diagnosed Maya in the fall of 2015 with the chronic neurological disorder known as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).
Although poorly understood and often misdiagnosed, CRPS is a real and painful condition. Symptoms can last from a few months to several years and can range from mild to severe. Sadly, this disorder is often called “the suicide disease”.
A Promising Treatment
Dr. Kirkpatric, a specialist at a centre in Tampa studying CRPS, proposed ketamine infusions to treat Maya. Ketamine is widely used in emergency rooms as an FDA-approved anesthetic and can also be used to treat depression and pain.
However, it has been known to be used as a recreational drug and the long-term effects of repeated use are mostly unknown. Liver and urinary toxicity have been reported among high-dose recreational users.
In November 2015, Dr. Kirkpatric recommended Maya for an experimental treatment in Monterrey, Mexico. The hopeful parents, looking to ease their daughter’s suffering, agreed to have Maya undergo a 5-day medically induced coma for high-dose ketamine infusions.
Of the experience, Maya said in a video deposition shown in Take Care of Maya,
“The ketamine helped me tremendously with my pain. I had a little bit of short-term memory loss and sometimes things were really blurry with my vision, but I was willing to have those side effects if it was going to help me overall.”
Jack, Maya’s father, a retired firefighter, told The Cut the procedure was “like rebooting a computer.”
After the experimental procedure, Maya continued with the ketamine infusions every three to four weeks. But at $10,000 per four-day session, the Kowalskis were starting to feel the financial strain.
Beata worked extra shifts as often as possible, and they sold their rental property to afford Maya’s treatments since stopping them was not an option for the devoted parents.
Eventually, they switched Maya’s treatments to Dr. Ashraf Hanna of the Florida Spine Institute, whose treatment rates were lower.
Over time, Maya began to make progress. Her feet straightened, her lesions healed, and the pain seemed more manageable.
The Emergency Room Visit
On the night of October 7th, 2016, Maya woke up with unbearable abdominal pain. Earlier that day, Beata had taken her daughter to Hanna’s clinic for an appointment.
Jack immediately took his daughter to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. Beata was at work.
According to the hospital staff, who was unfamiliar with CRPS, when Beata showed up, she was “belligerent, demanding, and controlling”. She refused to allow Maya to undergo ultrasounds and other tests, and she did not want her daughter to be examined.
Instead, Howard Hunter, the attorney for All Children’s Hospital, said in his opening statement at the trial that Beata requested 1,500 milligrams of ketamine be administered to Maya right away.
Knowing all too well the excruciating pain Maya must have been under, Beata felt the urgency and helplessness of knowing what your child needs and being ignored.
This, however, raised a red flag for the hospital staff, especially when the Kowalskis requested their daughter be discharged because nothing was being done to help her.
Medically Kidnapped: Take Care of Maya
On October 11th, wearing a hospital badge, but without revealing her identity or the purpose of the interview, Dr. Sally Smith, a child abuse pediatrician who worked for Suncoast Center, a privatised welfare service for Pinellas County, was brought in.
After a few interviews, including Dr. Kirkpatric and Dr. Hanna, who assured her Maya did indeed suffer from CPRS, Dr. Smith delivered her diagnosis as Munchausen by proxy.
Maya was held at the hospital from October 7th, 2016, to January 13, 2017. Beata was denied contact with Maya and was only allowed to speak by phone or video to her daughter under the supervision of a social worker.
Maya told People,
“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. I was medically kidnapped. I tried being hopeful, but there was a point where I thought, ‘I’m never getting out of this place.’”
The hospital went even further, not only denying her parents access to Maya, but also her aunts, uncles, two teachers who were helping her continue with her studies, and even the family priest.
Even when the hospital staff decided Maya was lying and/or harming herself, she was not released to her parents.
Interestingly, it was discovered that All Children’s Hospital billed Maya’s insurer more than $650,000 for her treatments during her stay, which included 174 entries for CRPS, the illness they claimed the young girl supposedly did not have.
No Final Hug for Mother and Daughter
On January 6th, 2017, Beata and Maya saw each other for the first time during a Dependency Court hearing. When Beata saw Maya in the courthouse, it was evident Maya had worsened.
Unfortunately, Judge Lee Haworth denied the family’s request to allow them to reunite with Maya as well as the young girl’s request to let her hug her mum.
The judge’s decision was devastating for Beata. After the hearing, she was “listless and crying.”
The next day, returning from a birthday party Beata did not want to attend, Jack and Kyle assumed that Beata was asleep in Kyle’s room. She wasn’t. They found her in the garage.
Beata died by suicide on January 7, 2017, 87 days after Maya was taken from her.
Maya recalled waking up at around 2 a.m. knowing something was wrong.
“I was crying, ‘I miss my mom, I love my mom,’” Maya stated. “I had this feeling. I felt it.”
This was the exact time her mum died.
‘Cannot watch my Daughter Suffer’
Beata left a note.
“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 while my hands are tied by the state of FL and the judge!”
Maya was released from the hospital following her mother’s death on January 13, 2017, on the condition she no longer receives ketamine treatments.
When she left the hospital, the 11-year-old weighed less than she did when she was admitted in the fall of 2016. She was so weak that she could not sit up without assistance.
According to her dad, Maya cried inconsolably upon her return home. She had spent Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and her birthday at the hospital, without her family.
As Jack said in the documentary,
“We are trying to do the best we can. But the kids will never be the same. It’s very difficult to understand what went through Beata’s mind, thinking that was the only way to get her daughter out. I miss her dearly, but I have anger here and there.”
A Persevering Teen
After her release from the hospital, Maya underwent physical therapy. Jack installed solar panels to heat their pool for aqua therapy, and he bought her a teacup Yorkie for motivation.
A year and a half later, Maya stood up from her wheelchair for the first time and walked with the help of crutches.
In 2019, after twelve more months of swimming, yoga, and exercise, Maya walked unassisted for the first time in four years.
Today, Maya is a radiant, mature, articulate 17-year-old. She manages her condition with daily, rigorous exercise as she strives to live her life to the fullest. Academically, she is motivated and a hard worker as she participates in Duke University’s Talent Identification Program for gifted children. She also placed first in a figure skating tournament in March 2022.
“I still have pain, but it’s not as severe as it once was and I’m forever grateful for that,” she said.
Justice for Maya and Beata
The traumatic experience forced the Kowalski family to file a lawsuit against John Hopkin’s All Children’s Hospital. This lengthy and highly publicised case wrapped up in November 2023.
John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital was found liable for false imprisonment, medical negligence, battery of Maya, fraudulent billing, intentionally inflicting emotional distress on Maya, wrongful death claim for the estate of Beata Kowalski, and inflicting emotional distress on Beata Kowalski.
The Kowalski family awarded $261 million in damages.
Outside the courthouse, Maya said,
“For the first time, I feel like I got justice. My mom was the type of person, when she was right, she was gonna prove it. Unfortunately, she’s not here to carry that out, but we are here and we carried it out and we proved her right.
“It feels really nice to finally have an answer to this court case. No amount of money will ever replace my mom, so, honestly, we were just happy to get a yes. We were happy to have our prayers answered.”
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