Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy- when the parent faked a child’s illness

Last Updated on September 9, 2023

Yesterday I came across this heartbreaking story of a child, Olivia K. Gant (21 June 2010- 20 August 2017)
who passed after years being tortured by unnecessary medical procedures including feeding tubes and unnecessary surgeries. Below is the video:

The saddest thing is that, the child was likely to be perfectly healthy and normal but the mother faked the illness of the child…. and the medical team treated the child based on the symptoms that the mother mentioned instead of running tests and hospitalizing the child for observation to determine if the symptoms reported were true.

For example, when the mother said her child, Olivia could not eat, they placed a feeding tube in her instead of hospitalizing her and observing if indeed she really cannot eat food normally. Because for all we know, a parent could be starving the child and preliminary blood test would show there would be severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. That itself is not a sure indicator that a child is having severe digestion issue and malfunction. By placing the child in a ward for observation, the medical team would be able to determine before deciding if a feeding tube is necessary.

It was surprising that the hospital did that. And the concerns brought up by some medical staff who felt something was seriously wrong were not actioned upon.

What is Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy:

Munchausen syndrome is pretending you have an illness. By proxy is pretending your dependent has an illness. — Cleveland Clinic

Through my experience, medical staff do not simply give medication just because the parent claim the child had that symptom. In the video above, Olivia was prescribed with anti seizures medication.

Just to share, I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was about 15 years old. My mom was a nurse in the hospital where she brought me to see the department head of neurology who was a neurologist. And even that, the neurologist ran an EEG test and only diagnosed me with epilepsy after my brain waves were abnormal. He did not just assume my mother was right and then went on to prescribe medication.

I took anti seizures medication and let me tell you, the side effects are terrible- it causes brain fog, slow down in brain activity and forgetfulness.  The neurologist told my mother that the medication can only hopefully control the symptoms but not cure it as my condition has no cure. It was difficult for me to function as I had an important government examinations to go through and the medication was making it hard to study. Even with the medication, I continued to have seizures (eventually I was cured of the condition through spiritual intervention, you can read my story here).

My point is, medical team usually do not believe point blank and treat based on symptoms provided by the mother. They will always investigate first. There are a couple of interesting comments left by viewers who are absolutely floored by the way the hospital had reacted which I really wish to put in this blog because these input are valuable and I do not wish it to be lost in the sea of comments, never to be seen again:

Comment by @sal7355:

in order for my sister to prove she even had seizures, let alone a condition that caused them and required medication, she had to come home with stuff all over her head to record her brain activity. she had countless doctor’s visits, countless appointments with neurologists, and numerous seizures. finally, she was diagnosed with epilepsy after probably a year, maybe longer. the idea that a doctor would just…give her medication for seizures that didn’t even exist is baffling to me.

the fact that they could just put a child on hospice and place a dnr order on her without even having her consult a therapist, without even being able to PROVE her condition is just wild.

Comment by @justacanofspam2641:

As a chronically ill teenager it is INSANELY difficult to get treatment it is absolutely beyond me how this occurred. Even when I was 5’7 and weighing 85lbs from my illnesses doctors refused to place a nasal feeding tube let alone preform wholly unnecessary surgery. This makes me absolutely sick and is beyond heartbreaking for too many reasons to even begin to cover in a comment.

Comment by @KateDietsDebunked:

As a dietitian, I am floored that feeding tubes and TPN could be administered with no actual physical proof that Olivia wasn’t absorbing her food. The medical professionals in this case absolutely need to be held accountable for what they did, along with the mother.

Comment by @shoppingaddixx4629:

It’s buzzard because I have this problem and I have an illeostomy bag and I’ve lived on feeding tubes and tpn. However to even get it I had so many tests that shows what caused it even though 16 years later after one diagnosis they have found 32 neurogenic and autoimmune diseases that played a huge part. I couldn’t image being that young and having no damn voice because let me tell you those surgeries are horrific! This mother deserves to die! And I don’t understand these doctors! My doctors advocated for me and sent me to doctor after doctor seeking answers! I’ve seen over 100 drs and between Cleveland clinic and Mayo Clinic top hospitals in the country!

Comment by @makensiederusso1837

My insurance won’t even let me get an MRI without doing 6weeks of physical therapy first… I’m shook at how the doctors did life altering surgeries, not from running test but based solely on her mothers word.😢

Comment by @kirstenornelas881

My kid has SEVERAL confirmed motility studies that show Gasteroparesis and still were going through the same medications and diets and even been told of it must be an eating disorder by one specialist who obviously had little time to look at the test results. My kid does not even begin to move food out of the stomach until hr 4 which is the end of the test when everything should be in the lower intestine. It blows my mind healthy kids can be out through the things parents like myself wish our kids did not have to go through. There’s no words to explain the sheer hate I feel towards so called mothers like this.

Comment by @ollieishere4122:
I have gastroparesis and intestinal dismotility. I have a j tube, g tube, and about to get a central line. I may have to lose my colon. I’m pissed off. I have friends who fight to get feeding tubes. I would give anything to be healthy. And this child was put on TPN?????? That is horrible. TPN destroys your liver and I believe pancreas. I know your liver. And the bag???? I’m so scared in a few months after testing on the 13th I might get a colonoscopy bag. I’m horrified.

However, dilemma of reporting the parent if Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

In the video, the doctor and nurses who noticed something were wrong were blamed for not escalating the issue to external law enforcement, social service and child protection agencies. These concerned staff have repeatedly highlight to the higher ups within the hospital but sadly no action were taken years until the child passed away.

There is a commentator who highlighted that even if the case was reported and Child Protection agency and social services came to get the child, there is no gurantee everything would be safe. They have witnessed cases of children, especially special needs children were also abused in foster care. They say that sometimes triggering the parent may cause the parent to bring the child to go elsewhere till they find a hospital who believed their sob story. So there is a dilemma:

Comment by @furrycat2825:

This is heartbreaking – I saw a case of Manchausen from the doctor’s perspective while a medical trainee and the approach to deal with these cases are really not clearly taught to us. In our case, we had a severely autistic non-verbal patient that also had one other simple condition that could be well treated by the meds we prescribed but the mom was clearly obsessed with her “caregiver role” and having a long list of medications and medical regiments to perform for her child everyday, even when it was not necessary. Her whole personality was surrounded around telling people about the hard work she does caring for her child every minute of the day, when we knew it did not need to be like that at all, and she probably felt like she wouldn’t have purpose for herself if she stopped doing these regiments. She was not giving the meds we prescribed appropriately and would use “alternative” herbal meds on her child that was making their condition much worse and more painful. doctors all spoke about it openly to us trainees at the time but worried that if we called the mom out, she would just run to a new set of doctors who would then take more years to figure her out, but if we alerted social services and the child was taken, the child could also be mistreated even more in foster care as she was non-verbal (and we have frequently seen it happen to past non-verbal autistic patients in foster care). It felt like we were having to choose between 2 horrible options of abuse – one where she would be medically abused in her own home by a familiar and comfortable person or be physically, mentally, and potentially sexually abused by strangers in a foster home. In the end, the doctors agreed to not call the mom out and just book her for frequent follow ups to ensure we could track her well-being, and just try to appear empathetic to the mom as we frequently pushed for her to get therapy for all “her anxiety” surrounding her child’s health. But in the end, none of us felt satisfied or comfortable with any of our decisions. Really need more research on how to approach Manchausen cases in an effective way, or at least offer better social services for kids facing medical abuse because the foster system is not a great alternative.

As she said, the medical team needs to be better equipped to deal with suspected cases of Manchausen. There are the fake claims of symptoms, but there are even more cases where the condition is genuine. In the case of the earlier comments as well as the countless sharing in private support groups, most people struggling with illness, especially ‘invisible’ illness and auto immune disorders have problem of being believed by their healthcare providers.

How the case eventually came to light was when the mother took another surviving daughter to see another doctor from another hospital and claim her daughter and Olivia had cancer. The doctor was smart enough to pick up the phone to do a reference check to verify the mother’s claims with the Children’s Hospital who had treated Olivia. It was then the mother was being found out but sadly it was too late.

In the 5:36 minutes into the video, the heartbroken step grandfather recalls that (5:55min)- two days before the child passed away, she was on heavy narcotics, she was given only popsticle juice. She opened her eyes when her step grandfather visited her and told him that she was hungry. Yet the grandfather never thought that Olivia in fact was not really sick to begin with but instead was angry at the host of medical conditions that his grandchild had to suffer through. After he realized the truth, he lived with guilt each night of how he was not able to protect Olivia and did not give her food when she told him she was hungry.

 

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Related Pages: Pregnancy  | ChildrenADHD/ Asperger/ Autism

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