VENICE — Maya Kowalski received 55 doses of ketamine over a nine-month period, including one given the day before her mother demanded that emergency room doctors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital administer more of the drug to the 10-year-old girl, an attorney for the hospital told a Venice court Thursday.
Ketamine, an anesthetic, has been used to treat complex regional pain syndrome, a disorder that Maya had been diagnosed with by a pain specialist. But All Children’s doctors were reluctant to agree to Beata Kowalski’s request that her daughter, who at the time was on 21 other medications, get a 1,500-milligram dose of the drug, said Howard Hunter, the hospital’s lead counsel.
“They had a child being given levels of medication they had never heard of before, that the literature did not support,” Hunter told the jury.
Opening statements in the civil trial brought by the Kowalski family provided competing accounts of the events following Maya’s arrival at the hospital on Oct. 7, 2016. Medical staffers’ decision to twice report the girl’s mother to the state’s abuse hotline led to a judge ordering Maya Kowalski be removed from her family and sheltered for three months at All Children’s. After 87 days with no physical contact with her daughter, Beata Kowalski, 46, took her own life.
Greg Anderson, lead counsel for the Kowalski family, told the jury that evidence will prove that the hospital misdiagnosed what was causing Maya to vomit and feel severe pain, which led it to go to extreme lengths to hide their mistake. The hospital wrongly accused the girl’s parents of medical child abuse, he said, and later tried to prove that Maya was faking her illness.
During her stay at the hospital, employees restricted who Maya could see and took her holy water, prayer book and rosary beads away, he said. The girl was stripped and photographed against her will and placed in a room where she was videotaped over a two-day period without permission from either the family or a court, Anderson said.
“Maya Kowalski was falsely imprisoned and battered,” he said. “She was denied communication with her family; she was denied communication with the outside world. She was told her mother was crazy.”
Throughout the proceeding, Maya, now 17, sat in the courtroom between Anderson and attorney Nick Whitney. Her father, Jack Kowalski, and brother Kyle, 15, sat on a bench behind them.
Tears appeared on her face when Anderson detailed to the jury the exact way her mother took her own life in the family’s Venice home on Jan 8, 2017. Behind Maya, the shoulders of her brother gently shook.
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The opening skirmish of the trial provided a first glimpse at how hospital attorneys plan to overcome a flood of negative publicity around the case. The Netflix documentary “Take Care of Maya,” which tells the story of the family’s tragedy, was viewed almost 14 million times in the first two weeks following its June release. The family’s story has also made international headlines.
Hunter said the hospital acted out of reasonable caution and was pursuing what it believed was the best treatment plan for Maya. The high doses of ketamine and the other medications the girl was on were grounds to be skeptical about the care the girl was receiving, he said. The decision to remove Maya from her family was made by the Florida Department of Children and Families, and the hospital was obliged to follow court orders regarding her care.
“A doctor’s concern about how much she was being given and the frequency with which it was being given is very well placed and vindicated,” he said.
The decision to photograph the girl was to document whether lesions on her body were spreading, he said. The treatment regime that doctors recommended for the girl, including physical and behavioral therapy, improved her health during her stay in the hospital, during which time she put on 4 pounds, Hunter said.
The 2018 lawsuit the Kowalski family filed against All Children’s in Sarasota County is seeking both compensatory and punitive damages.
It alleges that hospital employees battered and falsely imprisoned Maya., that the hospital was negligent in its medical treatment of the girl., and that the hospital caused severe emotional distress to the family, which was a factor in the mother’s suicide.
It also alleges that the hospital fraudulently billed roughly $536,000 for treatment for the disorder that hospital doctors claimed Maya did not have.
According to news reports, the Kowalskis are suing for $55 million in compensatory damages and $165 million in punitive damages.
The case continues Friday with witnesses appearing for the family. It is estimated the trial could run for up to 8 weeks.