Doctors are seeing an increase in both mild and severe cases of Munchausen syndrome by proxy – the condition that is the focus of the high-profile “Take Care of Maya” study in Florida that ended this week.
Doctors tell The Post that the increasing incidence of the syndrome, in which caregivers exaggerate a child’s complaints to elicit sympathy, is caused by a number of factors – including the lure of attention on social media, the flood of information available online medical information and a dwindling trust in the medical establishment.
“It’s still rare, but you’re seeing it more often now,” said a Fort Myers-based pediatrician. “I am not taking a position one way or another on the Maya Kowalski case or how the hospital as a whole handled the situation. But there is cause for concern.”
Last month, Bronx mother Tajahnae Brown was arrested and charged with first-degree assault after authorities said she poisoned her 4-year-old daughter with “life-threatening levels” of anti-seizure medication.
Investigators alleged that Brown made 190 trips to different providers to obtain the unnecessary medication for her child.
In July, Texas mother and social media influencer Jessica Gasser was arrested and charged with faking her 3-year-old’s illness and causing medical harm.
Police said the 27-year-old gave her daughter 28 unnecessary shots and took her to dozens of doctor’s appointments in three states to keep up the charade.
The Fort Myers doctor said such cases represent the extreme end of a spectrum of sharp parental involvement in their children’s care – from overruling doctors who refused routine procedures to full-blown Munchausen cases by proxy in which children are clearly at risk.
“People go to WebMD now and think they know what’s going on with their child,” he said. “For some people it becomes compulsive. I see more parents refusing now than ever before. It’s a real problem.”
A Jacksonville-based doctor echoed that sentiment, claiming she’s seeing more skepticism from parents today than in years past.
“Honestly, I think a lot of this is due to the controversy surrounding the COVID vaccine,” she said. “There were a lot of people who rejected it. In many cases this led to conflicts with their doctors. I think that has led to skepticism about other things beyond COVID. And that is unfortunate. It has real consequences.”
This doctor drew a parallel between the increase in home-schooling children and what she called “home-doctoring.”
In some of the more horrific Munchausen-by-proxy cases, social media attention — and the potential for illegal profit from fundraising events — are the driving forces, doctors said.
“In the past, there weren’t many opportunities for people to get something out of manufacturing or invention,” the Fort Myers doctor claimed. “That has now changed. I have to believe it matters.”
While the practitioners declined to comment on the jury’s verdict in the Maya Kowalski case, both said they hoped it would not have a chilling effect on doctors’ willingness to denounce questionable parental care.
“Can hospitals mishandle cases?” said the Jacksonville doctor. “Of course. There are a lot of gray areas here. But there are cases where intervention is necessary.”
A Florida jury ruled Thursday that Maya, now 17, was wrongfully incarcerated at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg and found the facility liable for a $261 million fine.
Maya’s mother, Beata Kowalski, had urged doctors to give her aggressive ketamine treatments for what she said was a serious neurological disorder.
The hospital referred the case to the Florida Department of Child Welfare, and a judge later made Maya a ward of the state.
After three months of separation from her daughter, Beata Kowalski committed suicide in January 2017.
The hospital’s lawyers had argued that staff reported the mother out of legitimate concern for Maya’s well-being.
The family’s lawyers countered that the facility had wrongly dismissed the parents’ claims that Maya suffered from chronic regional pain syndrome and had inappropriately isolated her.
The case was documented in the Netflix documentary “Take Care of Maya,” which premiered on the streaming service on June 19 and was viewed 13.8 million times in the first two weeks of its release.