Take Care of Maya details how misjudgment by medical professionals and child welfare services separated Maya Kowalski from her family and caused her mother’s suicide. Beata Kowalski took her life in the family’s garage after a judge blocked her from hugging her daughter, two months after the state of Florida took Maya into custody. “I know it’s because he turned her down,” Jack, Beata’s husband, sobs on the phone in the documentary. “That killed her.”
Dr. Sally Smith and Suncoast Center paid Maya Kowalksi’s family a settlement of $2.5 million
Following many unsuccessful hospital visits, Maya was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) by anesthesiologist and pharmacologist Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick. CRPS is a neurological condition that causes intermittent or constant pain, per the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Kirkpatrick started Maya on a regimen of the anesthetic drug ketamine, which alleviates symptoms of CRPS.
However, Maya’s case was so severe that it prompted a more aggressive treatment: placing her in a five-day ‘ketamine coma’ that would ‘reset’ her nervous system. Maya underwent the treatment in Mexico, as it isn’t FDA-approved. “I felt amazing,” Maya recalled in an interview with People.
Unfortunately, Maya’s symptoms returned with a vengeance in October 2016. Jack and Beata rushed her to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, and told doctors she had CRPS. Beata explained to doctors that Maya needed unusually high doses of ketamine to manage her pain. The request and Beata’s directness raised red flags.
Dr. Sally Smith of Suncoast Center, a facility providing privatized child welfare services, interviewed the parents. “They accused her [Beata] of over-medicating Maya,” Jack says in the documentary. “And they thought Maya was faking this syndrome.” Dr. Kirkpatrick says she contacted Dr. Smith, explaining Maya’s diagnosis and treatment.
He says that Dr. Smith ignored his assertions in her report. The state of Florida took custody of Maya and barred her family from contacting her. Doctors opined that Beata was abusing Maya, accusing her of Munchausen by proxy, a mental disorder where a caretaker or parent makes up fake symptoms or inflicts symptoms to make it seem that the child is injured or ill, per Cleveland Clinic.
The decision ultimately led to Beata’s suicide. “I no longer can take the pain being away from Maya and being treated as a criminal,” Beata wrote in an email discovered after her death.
The family sued Dr. Smith and Suncoast Center, who settled for $2.5 million in December 2021.
Maya is focusing on living a full life as the family awaits the trial against Johns Hopkins Hospital
The family suit against Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is set to start in September 2023. “We want Beata’s voice to be heard,” Jack says in the documentary. “We want Maya’s voice to be heard.”
Gregory Anderson, the family’s lawyer, says Beata’s notes and recordings helped build the suit. Beata, a trained nurse, kept meticulous records of Beata’s symptoms. Anderson says:
“If she hadn’t taken such an aggressive approach, we couldn’t have sued. They knew what they were doing, pushing her towards some form of harm. So they should pay punitive damages, which are designed to punish them for their wrongdoing.”
Ethen Shapiro, the hospital’s attorney, told The Independent that Netflix and the media are telling a fabricated story. “There are hundreds of additional publicly available court documents that completely contradict the Netflix narrative; a narrative that has been unfortunately echoed by media outlets with scrutiny,” Shapiro said.
Regardless, Maya is determined to fight for Beata. “Even though we are discouraged, we will not settle,” Maya reads a letter to Beata in the Netflix documentary. “We will fight for you, and we will fight for the thousands of other families who find themselves in the same unfortunate circumstances. The day will come.”
Maya has spent a significant portion of her life in pain: she suffered from the debilitating symptoms of CRPS and the grief of her mom’s death. Per People, Maya has set out to live a full life while seeking justice for Beata:
“I have to do my best to push through. I’ve already missed a lot, so I want to make the most of life now. For us as a family to move on, we need to fulfill my mom’s wish and fight. I want justice for my mom.”
Maya’s fight has inspired other families to come forward and speak out against their harrowing encounters with Florida’s child welfare services system. “This young girl, Maya, represents hope for all of us,” a mother says in Take Care of Maya.
The family hopes the case will expose Pinellas County Child Protective System’s wanton separation of children from their families. Take Care of Maya states that, with Dr. Smith acting as the Director of Pinellas County’s Child Protective Services inquiring team, children in the county were almost 2.5 times more likely to be separated from their families than Florida’s average.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that Dr. Smith, who has retired, will face criminal charges for wrongdoing in connection to her work.