VENICE, Fla. - Jurors continued to hear testimony Wednesday in the $220 million case against Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital featured in the Netflix documentary ‘Take Care of Maya.’
They were expected to watch a video deposition from hospital social worker Catherine Bedy on Wednesday, but instead, heard from other witnesses in the case. Bedy, whose video deposition will be played Thursday, was a focus of the documentary, and the Kowalski family recently dropped its case against her.
Jurors heard from Mark Zimmerman, the attorney who represented Maya Kowalski after she was taken into state care. He told jurors he felt as if Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, and in particular, social worker Catherine Bedy made an effort to put up barriers for him to access Maya.
"The hospital personnel, and specifically this one social worker, was limiting her freedom…Why that was? I didn’t know. But that was clearly her goal - to isolate this child from her family and her lawyer," Zimmerman said.
Maya remained in the hospital in state custody, after staff called DCF to reported suspected child abuse. Lawyers for the hospital noted employees were acting on a court order.
Also on the witness stand Wednesday was Dr. Fernando Cantu, the doctor who treated Maya with a ketamine coma in Mexico.
"It is a dream- I really wish I could find a cure for patients with this disease," said Dr. Cantu.
He explained to jurors how the ketamine coma is not a cure, but a treatment for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.
Dr. Cantu told the jury Maya was the youngest patient he’s treated with the coma, but went on to tell the jury vitals were taken before, during and after the procedure to check in on the patient.
Maya in a hospital bed.
"The idea here is to improve the patients functioning and quality of life," he said.
On Tuesday, Maya’s father, Jack Kowalski, wrapped up his second day of testimony.
He told jurors years after being diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or CRPS, Maya continues to have flare-ups.
"Today, she is stating her limbs are hurting, but she tolerates pain she keeps going," he said.
He explained that was the pain Maya felt while hospitalized at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital at age 10.
Why was Maya taken into state custody?
Maya had been receiving ketamine treatments for the pain and her mother insisted she continue receiving ketamine therapy after she was taken to Johns Hopkins All Childrens' Hospital in October 2016.
Her persistence alarmed hospital staff and they called in a report to the Child Abuse Hotline.
They suspected Beata Kowalski, who was a registered nurse, was making her daughter sick.
Maya Kowalski in a hospital bed.
When the hospital’s attorney began his opening statements, he noted that several hospital staffers believed Beata Kowalski suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MBP) and they were trying to protect Maya.
A judge ordered Maya to be sheltered at the hospital while the child abuse allegations were being investigated. She wasn’t allowed to be discharged to her family or another treatment facility and could not see her mother. A judge ordered her remain at the hospital under state custody.
"We wouldn’t be able to leave without taking Maya. They stated that we’d be arrested," Jack Kowalski explained on Tuesday.
Surveillance images of Maya in a hospital bed.
Jack Kowalski went on to describe how the hospital treated those who tried to visit Maya inside the facility.
"Did you learn through the course of this that they believed Beata was slipping ketamine through the holy water and wafers?" asked Kowalski family attorney Gregory Anderson.
"I know it didn’t happen, but they had all different ideas," said Jack Kowalski.
Anderson argued those theories resulted in Beata Kowalski’s desperation and death by suicide.
"I saw my child deteriorating. Go home, and see my wife deteriorating," Jack Kowalski said.
Side by side images of Maya Kowalski as she battled CRPS.
Why is Maya's family suing the hospital?
Beata Kowalski took her own life after being kept away from her daughter for 87 days. The surviving family members are suing Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital for $220 million, claiming the actions of the hospital and the Department of Children and Families led Beata Kowalski to die by suicide.
On Monday, jurors were read two notes that Maya’s mother left behind before she took her own life. She left one note for her family and another note for the judge overseeing the custody decision.
In the note, Beata Kowalski said the judge destroyed her family, and marriage and caused the family to go bankrupt because he kept her away from Maya.
Pictured: Beata and Maya Kowalski
Why was Maya taking ketamine?
Beata Kowalski, who was a registered nurse, learned about CRPS from an infusion patient and began researching the disease. Her research led her to Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, who prescribed ketamine treatments.
"He explained the procedure. He talked about how it’s been around for quite a long time. He mentioned it’s used for many things, and it’s safe," Jack Kowalski stated during testimony on Monday. "The side effect when they’re coming out of it is a hallucination for a short time, but then everything is back to normal."
Upon cross-examination of Jack Kowalski, defense attorneys for the hospital questioned the family’s decision to move forward with ketamine coma treatment in Mexico.
"Were you aware that the risk of death from that coma was 50%?" asked Ethen Shapiro.
"There is a risk in every procedure," Kowalski responded.
"I understand that Mr. Kowalski but respectfully there’s a risk and then there’s a risk that’s a coin flip in which your daughter could pass. Did you know it was 50%" Shapiro pressed on.
"They stated it was 50%, but they stated no one every died from that procedure," responded Kowalski.
Maya’s father told the jury he and his family saw Maya slowly returning to herself following the ketamine therapy.
However, staff at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital disagreed with the ketamine treatments and suspected Maya was a victim of child abuse.
Maya Kowalski listens to opening statements in a $200 million case against All Children's Hospital.
What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?
CRPS is a rare pain disease that can follow an injury, and it’s tough to diagnose and sufferers are sometimes accused of faking their pain.
There’s no cure for CRPS and treatments can range from acupuncture and nutrition to physical therapy and massage or ketamine therapy.
The Kowalski family attorney argues that the hospital staff refused to believe Maya had CRPS even after Dr. Kirkpatrick, who did not work for All Children’s Hospital, confirmed her diagnosis.
The Kowalski family claims that while hospital staff was accusing them of lying about CRPS and refusing to treat Maya, the facility was billing the family and their insurance more than half a million dollars for that exact cause of illness.
File: Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital
Jurors will ultimately have to decide whether what happened to the Kowalski family could have been prevented and if the hospital’s actions pushed Beata Kowalski to take her own life.
"We ask in this case for you to consider not only compensatory damages to try to make them whole for these terrible things, but also punitive damages to deter them to punish them and to deter this type of behavior in the future," said Greg Anderson, Maya Kowalski’s lawyer.
The family already settled with the DCF Suncoast Center and child abuse pediatrician Dr. Sally Smith who once worked for the center, but is no longer employed by the organization.
Dr. Kirkpatrick was expected to take the stand on Tuesday, but the Kowalski family attorney said he is sick and will be unable to testify this week.
Maya is slated to speak to the jury next week.
The trial may last up to eight weeks.