Dr. Sally Smith for years worked as a child-abuse pediatrician who headed up the child-protection team in Pinellas County, Florida. She retired in July, and recapped a grim career that included seeing "dozens of children who were literally beaten to death." And in the roughly 3,000 cases she evaluated in her career—in which she would make a professional call on whether abuse had occurred or not—she maintains that "to my knowledge, I don’t have any cases where I've made an incorrect conclusion." A lengthy piece for the Cut by Dyan Neary surfaces one exception that had devastating consequences: the case of Maya Kowalski. The then-10-year-old was brought to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2016, with stomach pain.
Her parents, Beata and Jack Kowalski, explained she suffered from a "poorly understood" neurological disorder called complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS, that causes crippling and debilitating pain, so much so that she required ketamine infusions. Her mother's insistence on her child needing a large dose of the drug before she could be examined raised suspicion. Smith was called in and deemed Maya a victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, in which a parent intentionally causes a child to be ill to garner attention or sympathy. The parents were banned from seeing her, even after Smith changed her finding to say Maya was the one faking it. Months later, an expert confirmed Maya did indeed have CRPS—a finding that came after Beata, distraught over being separated from her daughter, hanged herself. (Read the full story for much more.)