‘Sally Smith’ In Take Care of Maya,’ Explained: Where Is Dr. Smith Now? Has She Proven Guilty?


Take Care of Maya reminds us of how difficult it is to fight the system and why people choose to surrender even when they know that they are not at fault. Sometimes accepting one’s guilt or letting the perpetrator go free is less excruciating as compared to fighting for justice. An aggrieved family, person, or anyone else often doesn’t have the mental capacity to fight the legal battle after what they have already gone through. The entire legal process can be frustrating, and it breaks the spirit of the person when they realize that it could take them years to merely get a chance to be heard. Jack and Beata Kowalski had never imagined that one day, their lives would be turned upside down without any sort of rhyme or reason. Their daughter, Maya, was struggling with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), and after consulting with many medical professionals, they finally reached the doorstep of Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, who had dealt with a lot of patients suffering from CRPS before.

Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick prescribed a medicine known as ketamine, and he purposely gave a high dosage as Maya’s case was quite acute. Maya started getting better and Jack and Beata were elated to see their child getting rid of the pain that had been giving her sleepless nights for ages. But that happiness didn’t last for long, and soon enough, Maya’s symptoms started emerging once again, and she had to be taken to the hospital.

How Did Dr. Sally Smith Prove Her Claims?

Beata was herself a nurse, and for some reason, she kept records of everything that happened on the journey. This documentation came as a blessing in disguise, as after their daughter was taken away from them, at least they had solid proof to prove that Dr. Sally’s diagnosis was baseless and absurd. Beata and Jack took Maya to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital as her health had started deteriorating, and the most frustrating thing was that Beata had to once again make the doctors understand the entire medical history of the girl. Beata knew that the diagnosis of Dr. Kirkpatrick had been the most effective of the lot, and that is why she was persistent and told the doctors at JHCH to give Maya the exact same medicines.

The doctors might have gotten pissed with the way Beata was asking them to do things, and it is quite probable that their egos were bruised. Though it is merely a speculation, it did feel like the intention behind calling a child abuse pediatrician to charge of the proceeding was done only to teach Kowalskis a lesson and indirectly make them aware of the consequences of trying to undermine the power of the system. When Dr. Sally Smith came to check on Maya, she examined the little girl for less than 10 minutes and came to the conclusion that Beata was guilty of Munchausen by proxy. Beata didn’t understand what had led to such deductions, as she had provided evidence to the doctors and the hospital proving that whatever she was saying was not merely a figment of her imagination. But Dr. Sally had made up her mind, and she asked the parents to immediately leave the hospital premises as their child had become a ward of the state now.

The worst part was that Dr. Sally Smith didn’t have to prove her claims to separate the parents from their daughter; all she had to do was show that there was probable cause that made her believe that a child’s life was in jeopardy due to the actions of the parents. When a psychology test was conducted, it was found out that Beata didn’t suffer from Munchausen by proxy, but still, Dr. Sally Smith was not held accountable for her actions, considering it was found that her entire theory was absolutely flawed and incorrect. At one point in time, Beata was also accused of having Doctor Shopping Syndrome, as she had taken her daughter to multiple doctors before she finally met Dr. Kirkpatrick.

Beata didn’t understand how it was her fault if she wanted the best possible treatment for her daughter, but somehow, she was being held guilty for being a good mother. All this while in Take Care of Maya, Dr. Sally kept telling the parents that their girl was getting better when, in fact, Maya repeatedly said that her condition was worsening, and she was not able to bear the pain. What Sally Smith told the court was in stark contrast to the testimony given by Maya, and it did feel like the former was just trying to prove that her flawed diagnosis was absolutely correct when the reality was completely the opposite. The worst possible thing that Dr. Sally Smith did was make the claim that Maya was not suffering from CRPS. These weak claims were enough to keep Maya in the hospital for more than 90 days, and in the end, it felt like the system was created in a manner that it never let the aggrieved party win, even when they had a strong case to prove their point.

Where Is Dr. Sally Smith Now?

Dr. Sally Smith never faced any charges for the wrong diagnosis she provided, on the basis of which she separated the parents from their children. A journalist named Daphne Chen started investigating the matter, and that’s when she came to know that the Kowalskis were not the only parents who had gone through such an ordeal. After Daphne’s article got published in the newspaper, many other parents came forward and told them that a similar thing had happened to them, where, based on unreasonable causes, they either had to face a sentence for abusing their child or fight for custody from the state.

The astonishing thing was that in most of these cases, Dr. Sally Smith was the one who was carrying out the investigation, and even after it was proved time and again that her findings were mostly wrong, no action could be taken against her because JHCH made sure that the matter never reached the court. We don’t think that Dr. Sally Smith wanted the parents to suffer, as somewhere, she was also under a huge amount of pressure to come to conclusions in a short span of time. The problem was that the answer was not always black and white, but pediatricians like Sally Smith were forced to come to a definitive conclusion in almost all cases. Sally Smith took only 10 minutes to come to the conclusion that all those doctors whom the Kowalskis had visited were wrong, though she could never prove what led her to make such claims. It was a fact that her destructive diagnosis coerced Beata to take her life, and maybe it was a genuine error she made on her end, but how many times are we allowed to make such grave mistakes?

Dr. Sally Smith is now retired, and there has still been no action taken against her. Her name is still on the hospital list, and she stays in the same neighborhood in Florida. As told earlier, Maya’s case was not the first one, and we don’t understand why the system didn’t pay attention to it and tried to change its modus operandi after it received complaints from so many parents over the years. And the worst thing was that the hospital administration and the child welfare organization knew exactly what they were doing since the attorneys who were representing the Kowalski family later found out that the hospital was charging them for treating CRPS, even though Sally had clearly stated in her report that Maya didn’t suffer from it.

In 2021 Dr. Sally Smith and her organization, the Suncoast Centre, settled their portion of the lawsuit with the Kowalski family. Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital tried its level best to not let the case come to court, but as of now, the district court of appeals has finally approved the request of the Kowalski family to pursue punitive damages. We hope that the judiciary provides justice to the aggrieved families and the trials finally give them their due on 11th September 2023, and additionally sets a precedent that, be it an individual or an entire system, nobody could get away after doing such a thing.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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