Take Care of Maya is an important documentary about how child welfare services in the United States have destroyed hundreds of families. The Kowalski family had to live through the traumatic experience of misdiagnosis and lose a life in the process. The parents, Beata and Jack, were subjected to extreme harassment and emotional damage when their daughter, Maya, was taken to the ER at the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. From the age of 10, Maya suffered from extreme pain in her limbs, headaches, and burning sensations, and her legs started to curl inward eventually. She was diagnosed with the rare condition known as CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome), but the doctors at Johns Hopkins refused to believe the parents and doubted that they were lying. Take Care of Maya documents the extreme lengths that the parents had to go to bring their child back home.
What Is ‘Take Care Of Maya’ About?
Beata Kowalski emigrated to the United States from Poland when she was sixteen. Her teachers at school did not show confidence in her future, but she was a headstrong woman who refused to give up. She excelled in her nursing career and shared a beautiful relationship with her husband, Jack. With the birth of Maya and Kyle, they felt complete, and life was perfect. Their perfect life started to fall apart when Maya started to suffer from unexplainable pain. They consulted several doctors to get the right diagnosis, but none of them could answer their doubts. Most doctors believed that the symptoms were unusual and could not come up with a concrete reason for them. As a nurse, Beata knew the importance of documenting every medical detail, and she even recorded a few doctor visits. In one such recording, we hear a doctor explain that Maya was suffering from anxiety. When the doctor left, Maya, in a weak voice, told her mother that she was not suffering from anxiety, and Beata agreed with her. Maya yelled and wailed due to the horrifying pain, and Beata was desperate to find a cure and save her little girl.
After conducting research online, Beata came across Dr. Kirkpatrick. They traveled to Florida to get Maya checked, and after studying her symptoms, Dr. Kirkpatrick concluded that she was suffering from advanced CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome). He had worked with 3000 CRPS patients, and he considered Maya’s condition severe. Dr. Kirkpatrick advised her parents to opt for an infused ketamine coma treatment. The family traveled to Mexico for Maya to go through the treatment. The ketamine treatment helped Maya recover to some extent. After returning from Mexico, the family could no longer afford Dr. Kirkpatrick, so under his recommendation, they consulted Dr. Hanna for further guidance. The low dosage of ketamine helped to keep the symptoms in check, and even though Maya suffered from a few side effects, she did not mind as long as the pain was gone.
On the night of Hurricane Matthew, Maya’s pain returned. Beata was not at home at that moment, and thus Jack, seeing his daughter in immense pain, quickly took her to the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. The doctors questioned the parents about her rare condition and the ketamine treatment she had to undergo. Since Beata was well-versed in Maya’s medication and her condition, she authoritatively explained the steps that the doctors must take to help her daughter. Beata wanted to protect her child, and knowing what helped her condition, she wanted the doctors to immediately take the necessary steps to prevent the deterioration of her health. But her straightforwardness and authoritative attitude were taken negatively by the hospital staff, and they concluded that Beata was lying about Maya’s condition and that it was a case of Munchausen by proxy. It is a psychological condition where a guardian or a caregiver (in this case, Maya’s mother) lies about their child’s sickness (making up false symptoms or exaggerating them) for attention.
Why Did Beata Kowalski Commit Suicide?
The doctors started to doubt Beata when she insisted they put Maya on a higher dosage of ketamine. They believed she was too demanding, which was the primary reason behind Maya’s illness. The hospital staff soon contacted child welfare services, and suddenly Jack Kowalski realized that everything had changed. Dr. Sally Smith, a child abuse investigator from Suncoast Center, entered Maya’s room at the hospital and questioned Jack and Maya about her condition and medication. She left the room in ten minutes and determined that Maya was a victim of child abuse and would be taken for protection under state custody. Jack was asked to leave the room, and the fear of losing his daughter to the system became all too real. Jack informed Beata that they were accused of overmedicating their daughter and that Maya was lying about her symptoms.
Even though Dr. Kirkpatrick directly spoke to Dr. Sally Smith about Maya’s condition and explained that there would be “catastrophic” consequences if she did not allow the girl to take proper medication, none of what he discussed was mentioned in Smith’s report. The court refused to allow Maya to return to Beata and Jack. While Beata’s approach to the entire situation was driven by emotion, Jack wanted to deal with it pragmatically. The difference in their approaches led to a rift between the two. Jack wanted Beata to calmly handle the situation and work according to the advice from their lawyer, but as a mother, Beata could not bear the pain of being separated from her daughter at a time when Maya needed her the most. She was allowed supervised calls with Maya, and she often breached the code that she was asked to follow. She asked Maya about her medication and health, and eventually, Cathy Bedy accused Beata of being inappropriate during their phone conversation, and Beata’s privilege of talking to her daughter was suspended.
Sometime before Christmas, Maya wrote a letter to the judge presiding over her case, and she requested that he allow her to see her family. Later during the proceeding, a lawyer asked on behalf of Maya if she could hug her mother, but even the hug was denied. This completely broke Beata, and Jack remembered how she complained about it the entire way home. A month later, Beata committed suicide, and her body was found in the garage. Jack and their lawyer, Ms. Salisbury, believe that it was the decision of the court that ultimately led to Beata’s suicide. The hug that was denied could have changed the case. After spending 92 days in state custody, Maya was allowed to return home.
What Is The Condition Of The Kolwalski Family Now?
It is impossible for Maya to forget the three months she was forcefully kept at the hospital. While returning home was reassuring for her, she could not forgive the people responsible for her mother’s death. Her condition improved with the help of physical therapy, but when it comes to CRPS, as mentioned by Dr. Kirkpatrick, there is no certainty. In 2019, when reporter Daphne Chen was researching child welfare for the Sarasota Herald Tribune, she came across similar accusations. She realized that the Kowalskis weren’t the only ones who suffered at the hands of the system; there were several parents with similar bitter experiences. Children were taken away as soon as they were brought into the hospital with unusual symptoms. Parents were accused of lying and arrested for abuse. While some managed to come to a settlement, there are those who could not and are still imprisoned. The Kowalski family represents all those families that were torn apart and faced irreparable damage due to systematic failure. The Kowalski family has used the notes and recordings left by Beata to file a strong case against the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Maya and Kyle break down after learning that the court hearing was once again pushed back, but Jack continues to be hopeful. The Kowalski family is the hope of all those parents victimized by the system.
It is heartbreaking to watch Maya describe how the absence of her mother has affected her life. She tries to keep herself distracted and busy, but the moment she returns home, she is saddened by her reality. During those three months, Maya not only had to live with her physical pain but also had to listen to the healthcare workers accusing her of lying about her condition and badmouthing her mother for destroying her life. The sheer determination and strength that it must have taken for Maya to live through those terrifying days is unfathomable. Take care of Maya ends on an emotional note. Parents who had faced similar prejudice narrated their stories on camera. The trial date for Kolwalskis to claim the punitive damages has been postponed to September 2023. While the Suncoast Center and Dr. Smith, who could be deemed the major culprits in the entire scheme of things, have already made the monetary settlement (as per the lawsuit) in the year 2021.