TAMPA, Florida – Lawyers defending Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital (JHAC) in a $220 million medical malpractice lawsuit brought by 17-year-old Maya Kowalski and her family presented smiling photos of the teen at prom, homecoming and Halloween to jurors this week.
The images were shown to dispute claims that Maya’s symptoms from complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) had severely worsened amid the stress of the high-profile trial.
Maya’s Story Goes Viral
Maya’s story gained worldwide attention following the release of the Netflix documentary “Take Care of Maya” earlier this year. The film depicted the Kowalski family’s agony after Maya was diagnosed with CRPS at age 10 and underwent an experimental ketamine coma treatment in Mexico.
When the family later asked doctors at JHAC to continue Maya’s ketamine regimen in 2016, hospital staff became suspicious and reported Maya’s mother, Beata Kowalski, for medical child abuse. This led to Maya being separated from her family for over 80 days.
The family contends the ordeal caused Beata, a registered nurse, to die by suicide in January 2017 after she was accused of causing her daughter’s illnesses.
Lawsuit Alleges False Imprisonment and Emotional Distress
Maya and her family are now suing JHAC for $220 million, alleging false imprisonment, medical malpractice, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
For nearly six weeks, jurors have heard testimony from medical experts and Maya’s former doctors and nurses. Maya’s attorney, Gregory Anderson, told Court TV last week that his client’s CRPS symptoms have worsened due to the stress of the trial.
As a result, Maya was reportedly unable to attend several days of court hearings. But on Tuesday, JHAC’s attorneys presented photos of Maya dressed up and smiling at prom, homecoming, and even posing provocatively in an angel costume for Halloween.
Hospital Questions Validity of Ketamine Treatment
JHAC lawyers argue the images contradict claims that Maya was too unwell to appear in court. The hospital’s lead attorney, Ethen Shapiro, said the photos show Maya is now “living a more normal teenage life” thanks to JHAC’s intervention in 2016.
“A lot of the world is watching. This is potentially a very chilling case for mandatory reporting,” Shapiro told reporters. “Hopefully by mandatory reporters seeing that we’re sticking up for them… [it] will help affirm their duties.”
The hospital called child protective services after Beata insisted 10-year-old Maya receive ketamine to treat a CRPS flare-up in 2016. Beata told staff that Maya had previously undergone an experimental ketamine coma treatment in Mexico that is not approved in the U.S.
JHAC lawyer Howard Hunter argued the hospital believed Maya was being “given levels of medication they had never heard of before, that the literature did not support.” Out of concern that Beata had Munchausen syndrome by proxy, staff reported her and temporarily removed Maya from her custody.
Expert Witnesses Dispute Ketamine Use
A doctor who previously prescribed Maya’s ketamine regimen testified that his treatment plan was medically appropriate. But Stanford University’s chief of pain management, Dr. Elliot Krane, told the court this week that Maya’s dosing was dangerous and illegal.
Maya’s Attorney: Hospital Caused Lifelong Damage
Gregory Anderson contends JHAC’s “unlawful abduction” of Maya caused lifelong emotional damage and led to her mother’s suicide.
“She was ripped from her family at a fragile time following a difficult medical journey,” Anderson said in his opening statement last month. “Maya’s trust was shattered.”
The trial is expected to continue for several more weeks. Both sides suggest the outcome could have far-reaching implications for hospitals’ duty to report suspected child abuse.