Young Girl Imprisoned by Hospital and Separated From Parents

After a concerned mother discovered her daughter's unusual diagnosis, her daughter was taken into custody

It all started when a young 9-year-old girl, named Maya Kowalski, started exhibiting concerning symptoms. In addition to losing the ability to walk, Maya experienced intense pain, causing her to scream out in agony. She also went through rapid temperature changes and dealt with numerous skin issues.

Her health was deteriorating quickly and her mother would stop at nothing to get her the help that she needed. After all, her daughter was often unable to walk or move without being in extreme pain. The family traveled to specialists and doctors where Maya's mother kept detailed records about her prognosis. She was met with skepticism from doctors and the healthcare system seemed to battle against her, either not believing her daughter or adding constant misdiagnoses to her medical history. Thankfully, one doctor finally figured it out, but the diagnosis didn't solve all their issues.

Maya received a diagnosis and a prescription of Ketamine

After countless doctors and hospital visits, she was diagnosed with CRPS (complex regional pain syndrome). The disorder is incredibly rare and the general public knows very little about it. Even doctors commonly misdiagnose or overlook it. While there is no cure for CRPS, there is treatment.

After identifying the cause of her pain, Maya's doctors recognized the severity of the situation. Controversially, she was prescribed Ketamine to help mitigate the pain. While it may seem like a hefty drug to give a nine-year-old, Maya's family thought it was the best way to help her at the time. However, outsiders and those unfamiliar with Maya's case went to extreme lengths to object.

Maya suffered from a relapse and the family hoped the hospital would help

Through Ketamine infusions and treatment, her situation dramatically improved. Maya was showing progress and getting better each day. She eventually learned how to live with the syndrome. However, the road to recovery isn't a straight line and she eventually experienced a relapse. When Maya found herself in intense pain, her parents rushed her to John Hopkins All Children's Hospital.

Maya explained to doctors the pain in her stomach and her family filled them in on her CRPS diagnosis. They added in more information about Maya's Ketamine uses which seemed to raise some red flags to the staff. As it turned out, the staff there knew very little about CRPS and, to them, it all sounded like a lie. That's when the family's life came to a sudden halt and began to fall apart.

Maya was taken into custody by the hospital

The hospital became convinced that Maya and her family were being dishonest. In fact, they thought that Maya was being abused and they alerted Child Protective Services (CPS). That is when and a woman named Dr. Sally Smith came into the scene. After just a quick interview with the parents, Maya was taken into custody by CPS.

She was forced to stay in the hospital where her parents were not allowed any contact with her. They pressed Maya about her symptoms and diagnosis, hoping she would confess that it was a lie. Plus, they cut Maya off from most of her treatment, sending her relapsing further than before. Her parents were helpless to the system and, no matter how much they tried to explain, were blocked out from the conversation. Ultimately, Dr. Sally Smith did not believe anything they said.

The hospital insisted her mom was an abuser

Dr. Sally Smith didn't believe this was just a simple case of child abuse. Instead, she specifically thought it was medical abuse. According to her theory, Maya's mother had Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

In Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a parent or caretaker of a child makes it seem like their child is severely sick. They either manufacture symptoms or dramatize real ones. Often these lies cause the child to actually exhibit some of the symptoms, making them sick. The psychological torture of it all is considered abuse since it makes the child sick. While this does happen in real life, this was not the case for Maya and her family. Despite evidence to the contrary, Dr. Sally Smith insisted that the family stay away from Maya. At this point, no one could foresee how much worse it would get for Maya and her family.

Maya experience abuse while in the hospital

Maya's mom went through a psychological evaluation. After it was determined that she was of a perfectly sound mind (other than depression from losing her child), Dr. Sally Smith still refused to concede. Even though other doctors validated the claim that Maya had CRPS, Dr. Sally Smith kept the family apart.

While in the hospital, Maya was watched over by nurses and staff. One caretaker particularly was a concern to the family because she had a history of child abuse. Maya later explained that the nurse forced Maya to strip and take photos to 'show the court', but it was against Maya's own consent. She also would limit Maya's time on the phone with her mother who she was not allowed to see in person...ever.

Authorities attempted to further divide the family

Maya continued to not receive proper treatment and her family continued to battle with the legal system to get her back. Maya's mother was not allowed to see Maya in person, but the authorities did permit her father to have visits at the hospital. However, in exchange for these visits, they pressured him into implicating his wife.

He did not do so. At one point the authorities implied that Maya could be released if he was no longer with his wife and they could ensure she wouldn't be around. Of course, he refused. The authorities continued to center Maya's mother as the primary issue despite all evidence to the contrary. A judge ordered that Maya could not even see the family or hug her mother for Christmas. As a result, Maya's mother killed herself and left a note.

Maya's note was heartbreaking

Maya's mother held on for three months of her daughter's hospital custody. It wore down on her well-being until she could no longer take it. As the State continued to call her the problem, she began to believe that they were never going to release Maya. In fact, in her note, she explained that she thought her suicide would be the only way they would release her daughter.

The judge was privy to the note and it specifically put him at blame. Since he was the one who denied her request to see her daughter for the holidays and he was the one to continue to separate the family, it put him in a unique position. He now had blood on his hands along with a young girl who lost her mother. 

Maya was reunited with her father, but barred from further treatment

Five days after the suicide, Maya was turned back over to her father's custody. While she was now allowed to see her family again, her mother was not among them. What followed were years of emotional turmoil for the family. Plus, amid all of this, Maya was still struggling with a rare disease and was barred from her treatment.

Following her release, more doctors validated the CRPS diagnosis. Medical professionals all over the world still stand by Ketamine as a valid treatment option for those experiencing CRPS. Nonetheless, the court maintained that Maya would not be allowed access to Ketamine. Instead, she was only allowed to do physical therapy in an attempt to remedy a chronic syndrome. The physical therapy took longer but did eventually help. However, this is when the family learned something completely shocking.

Dr. Sally Smith did the same thing to countless families

They discovered that they were not the only ones to experience this type of mistreatment by the hospital. After a local reporter covered Maya's case, numerous letters of support poured in and revealed the shocking truth. They learned that Dr. Sally Smith was at the center of countless cases of false accusations of child abuse. During her time at John Hopkins, she was singlehandedly responsible for the separation of many families. 

Many people related to Maya's story and started shining a light on their own journeys. The powerful stories of others helped Maya's family to take action against the hospital and Dr. Sally Smith. Unlike many of the other families, Maya had a special reason to pursue the case and they had a better chance of winning it. Before her mother's death, she did something that would alter the outcome of their legal battle.

Maya's detailed records can help the family's case

Maya's mother took very detailed notes and kept a record of her entire medical history. She documented every diagnosis and medical suggestion that she had been given over the years. This attention to detail has helped bolster the family's case since they could potentially prove that her mother was acting in good faith backed by medical professionals.

If her mother hadn't done that, there could be cause for speculation about her intention. Maya's family had another reason that made their case very strong. Many other families made a fatal mistake when going through the same experience. While it wasn't their fault, Maya's mother had the forethought to avoid giving in to the manipulation of the hospital. She took a stand against the hospital in a way that is paying off for her family today.

Maya rejected the Case Plan and still the legal battle seems grim

Whereas many families gave in to the hospital's demands, Maya's mother did not. Typically, the hospital lays out a Case Plan which is an agreement by the family to comply with a set of demands from the hospital. If they agree to this, they'll be given custody back and likely checked on by CPS in the future.

The goal of the Case Plan isn't actually to help the kid. Instead, it helps remove liability from the hospital. They no longer are responsible if something goes wrong because the family legally agreed to a set plan. However, Maya's mother did not want to accept the Case Plan. Their plan could have potentially resulted in a lack of treatment for Maya which her mother was clearly not going to agree to. Despite the strength of the case, Maya's family still had concerns over the outcome because the courts had failed them before.

The court system is failing Maya's family

In 2021, the family decided to officially file a lawsuit against the hospital. The hospital's legal team immediately knew it was going to be a difficult case to defend. In fact, they have done all they could to postpone scheduled court dates in an effort to avoid going to trial. Years after the situation, the family is still waiting for the legal system to help.

They want justice for Maya's mother and for the days Maya lost while trapped in the hospital. However, the judge kept pushing back the court date, leaving them in continued emotional distress. In September 2023, opening statements began for the trial. While the hospital's case is yet to be settled, the family did receive one small bit of closure. The person most responsible for their situation has finally started to face consequences.

Dr. Sally Smith felt consequences for her actions

Dr. Sally Smith settled her case out of court with Maya's family in 2021. While details about the settlement are relatively unknown, it does mean that one chapter in this story has come to a close. Although Dr. Sally Smith is responsible for numerous families being falsely charged with criminal activity, she has yet to face criminal charges herself.

Many are now speaking up about how she has affected their family's lives. In some cases, non-abusive parents had to serve jail time... and some are still serving it. These false accusations are running rampant and horrifically harming relationships within families. Not all of them are getting justice, either. The difficulty for Maya's family is only magnified for others. There is one way they are all getting justice, though.

Netflix produced a documentary

Maya's story was turned into a Netflix documentary called Take Care of Maya. In it, she and her family share their story and truth with viewers. The film does not shy away from the gruesome or heartbreaking details but rather aims to illuminate the truth about the situation. It has caused intense public backlash for Dr. Sally Smith, the abusive hospital caretaker, and the judge.

Those families affected are able to see the documentary and the impact it has had. It also serves as a warning to other parents and a wake-up call to medical professionals. While Maya's family will never be able to get that time back or bring her mother home, they have been able to have a positive impact by telling their story.