The story depicted in the Netflix documentary, “Take Care of Maya” is now playing out live in a Florida courtroom. What led to the documentary and now, a $220 million dollar lawsuit over the care — or lack of care — for a ten-year-old girl?
A Sick Little Girl
The parents of Maya Kowalski were at a loss when their daughter started showing unusual symptoms that left her in excruciating pain and struggling to walk. Maya suffered from headaches, asthma attacks, and painful lesions that formed on her arms and legs.
The family finally found some relief when an anesthesiologist and pharmacologist in Tampa, Florida, Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, diagnosed Maya with complex regional pain syndrome (CPRS).
CPRS is a type of chronic pain that usually affects an arm or a leg.
Dr. Kirkpatrick specialized in CRPS and built a treatment plan for Maya that included the use of the anesthetic drug ketamine through infusions. The treatment helped Maya with her symptoms, but roughly a year into the treatment, Maya had a flare-up that led her parents to bring her to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
In October 2016, Maya, who was ten at the time, was admitted to the hospital. Her parents attempted to explain her diagnosis and treatment plan to doctors, but the hospital team didn’t seem to agree with their explanation.
Questions of Child Abuse
When Maya’s parents, Jack and Beata Kowalski, asked for Maya to receive additional ketamine treatments, the hospital staff was skeptical. The Kowalskis asked for Maya to be discharged so they could take her to another facility, and the hospital refused. Staff contacted Sally Smith, the medical director of the county’s child protection team, and gave her access to Maya’s medical records, according to Fox 13.
Smith filed a report that questioned Maya’s mother’s mental health and whether Maya was faking or receiving unnecessary meditation.
Six days later, a judge ruled that Maya wasn’t allowed to be discharged to her family or another treatment facility. She was placed into state custody and ordered to not have contact with her mother while the case was being investigated.
The report accused Maya’s mom, a registered nurse, of Munchausen by proxy, a mental illness and a form of child abuse in which the caretaker of a child makes up fake symptoms or causes real symptoms to make it look like the child is sick.
A Painful Separation
Maya was held at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital for three months without any in-person interaction with her mother.
The separation was painful for both Maya and her family.
The lawsuit claims Maya was “held captive.” The family’s attorney Gregory Anderson told The Daily Mail, “These events amount to an abduction, incarceration and abuse of a ten-year-old girl. Her parents were irreparably defamed and damaged.“
Anderson also says the three months spent at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital held Maya back from receiving immediate relief and will have a long-term impact on her disorder. He said they “removed all proven therapies and treated her as a psychiatric patient. As a consequence, her CRPS is now a threat to her life and will manifest over her ’30s, early ’50s with more frequent, longer duration and more severe and painful events.”
The separation also had tragic consequences for Maya’s mother.
After the separation, Maya’s mother was diagnosed with a depressive mood and adjustment disorder. After months of being separated from her daughter, Beata committed suicide.
An Exoneration, a Documentary, and a Trial
Shortly after Maya’s mother Beata took her own life, the order to keep Maya from her family was lifted. The Kowalskis were exonerated on January 14, 2017, after the hospital found that Maya’s condition failed to get better and determined that her mother was not causing her symptoms, according to reporting by Tampa Bay Times.
In 2017, the Kowalskis retained AndersonGlenn LLP, and they filed a lawsuit in 2018. They have been fighting to get justice ever since.
Their story was recently shared in the Netflix documentary, “Take Care of Maya” which came out in June 2023. And now, their case has finally made it to trial.
The Kowalskis previously sued Dr. Sally Smith and her employer, Suncoast Advocacy Services Kowalskis, and won $2.5 million in a settlement.
Now, the Kowalskis are seeking $220 million in damages from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, $55 million in compensatory and $165 million in punitive damages. They say they will need medical care and therapy for the rest of their lives for Maya, her father Jack, and her brother Kyle.
Family members, doctors, and nurses will testify as a jury determines whether or not Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is at fault for keeping Maya away from her family.
Related: How Do You Sue for Wrongful Death?
Protect Your Family & Fight For Justice
If you or a member of your family was mistreated by medical staff in a way that led to physical, emotional, or financial damages, you deserve justice. A personal injury attorney or a wrongful death attorney can guide your family on a path to recovery. If you have a case to review, get a free consultation with TJ Grimaldi. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023.
TJ Grimaldi joined McIntyre in 2011. McIntyre recruited TJ to create the divisions of personal injury and family law, as well as to expand the existing criminal defense practice at the firm. During TJ’s tenure at McIntyre, he has helped oversee and grow these practice areas. He continues to practice in these divisions while also expanding his own practice areas to include estate planning and immigration law. TJ is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Florida and the United States District Court for the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida.