Fort Worth, Texas – Mother is accused of faking the illness of her baby which results with spending almost 100 days in hospital for care. The baby spent more than one-fourth of his young life inside a hospital.
According to the warrant, Kaleigh Flanagan lied to the medical staff at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth about the health condition of the baby. She told the doctors her son is having seizures all the times and that he is throwing up, but later a video was discovered faking these events.
As a result of the mother’s false reports, doctors inserted nasal-gastric tube into his esophagus. After revealing the video, Flanagan is charged with bodily injury to a child and arrested.
Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office Detective Michael Weber began investigating medical child abuse allegations against Flanagan on Feb. 2.
The allegations against Flanagan are indicative of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy — also known as Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another — a mental health disorder in which a caretaker fakes another person’s illness.
Flanagan initially told Cook Children’s staff that her son had various medical problems, including frequent seizures, according to the affidavit. An EEG and MRI of the child showed slightly abnormal results, and the child was put on anti-seizure medicine. In December, the child was admitted to the hospital when Flanagan told doctors he could not keep the medication down. She requested staff give him a nasal-gastric tube so he could take the medicine.
A nurse ordered a tube be placed on Jan. 15. On Jan. 16 and Jan. 24, Flanagan took her son to the Cook Children’s emergency room, saying he had pulled out the tube, and staff replaced it.
Doctors and staff started to doubt whether the boy suffered seizures or needed the nasal-gastric tube, Dr. Jamye Coffman, medical director of the Care Team at Cook’s, told Weber. A follow-up MRI and EEG of the child were normal, medical staff never saw the baby have a seizure and at least one nurse fed the baby without an issue.
In February, medical staff moved Flanagan and her then-11-month-old into a hospital room that had a hidden camera. On Feb. 1, Flanagan was caught on video splashing herself with water before telling nurses her son had vomited, the affidavit says. A doctor reported her to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, which began investigating.
According to a description of the footage included in the affidavit, Flanagan and her son were in the hospital room on Feb. 1 when she picked up her son from his crib. She walked around the room with her son, who had a pacifier in his mouth. She put him back into the crib and walked toward the sink, where she went out of view of the camera. When she came back into the frame, she had a stain on her sweatshirt and threw a paper towel away, according to the affidavit. She then went out of the room and told a nurse that her baby threw up — the affidavit notes the pacifier was inside the child’s mouth the entire time prior to this.
Over the next three days, Flanagan faked vomiting episodes four more times, the affidavit says. Each time, she splashed or dabbed herself with water and told staff her son threw up. Video footage never shows her son actually throwing up.
On Feb. 5, video footage shows Flanagan pick the baby up from his crib. The baby looks at her and grabs her face with his hands. She sets the baby back down and he appears to go to sleep. Flanagan walks out of the room and tells a nurse that her son just had a seizure.
That same day, Weber interviewed Flanagan in a hospital conference room.
Flanagan told Weber that she, her son and her 7-year-old twin daughters have a myriad of health issues, according to the affidavit. She says one of the twins had skin cancer removed from her leg and had her adenoids and tonsils removed. She said the child was treated for cancer in California, but could not provide the name of the doctor.
Weber told Flanagan the medical staff thought she may be lying about her son’s symptoms. At first Flanagan denied this. But when Weber told her about the video footage, she eventually told him she had lied about her son vomiting, according to the affidavit. She continued to say that her son had a seizure and said her friend saw him have one when he was younger.
At one point, she told Weber, “I feel like I’ve completely failed my children,” and “I know I messed up and I want to make it right,” the affidavit says.
The child was taken off seizure medication on Feb. 5, removed from Flanagan’s care and placed with a foster parent.
On Feb. 8, Weber went to Flanagan’s home and interviewed the baby’s father. The father, the twin girls, the baby and Flanagan lived with a family friend in Crowley. The twins have a different father who currently lives in Illinois.
The father told Weber he never suspected that Flanagan was lying about his child’s illness or the twins’ medical conditions, according to the affidavit. He had never seen the baby have a seizure or throw up, but said he worked 16-hour days and had no reason to think she was lying.
CPS found a trash bag filled with unused and unopened medication in a recycling bin behind the house, according to the affidavit. The woman that the family lived with said that Flanagan rarely, if ever, gave any of the children medication.
Flanagan did not appear to be bonded with her baby, the woman told Weber. Flanagan would leave the baby propped up on pillows with a bottle instead of holding him to feed him. When the baby cried, Flanagan told her 7-year-old daughters to take the baby into the other room, and she would be angry if they came back with him. Flanagan rarely bathed the baby or washed his bottles, the woman said.
She told Weber there was one incident when the baby was about 1 month old where the child’s eyes suddenly didn’t look quite right. She urged Flanagan to have him checked out. Since then, she had not seen him have any seizures or other medical problems.
Since the baby was moved into foster care, he has been doing well, according to the affidavit. The foster parent said he at first did not seem to know how to crawl, but she was teaching him. He had not had any signs of vomiting or seizures.
The twins were also removed from their mother’s care and remained in foster care, according to the Cleburne Times Review. At a hearing on March 2, a judge ordered the children should remain in foster care for now, and Flanagan had her visitation rights suspended.
A doctor told Weber that based on the medical evidence, the baby’s nasal-gastric tube placements were unneeded. Those placements would have caused the baby pain, and a nurse who assisted during the tube placement said the baby cried and squirmed, as most babies do during similar procedures.
The baby was born on March 6, 2020 and, at a nearly a year old, had spent a total of 98 days at Cook Children’s Medical Center.
FACTITIOUS DISORDER IMPOSED ON ANOTHER
In Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another, also known as Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, a caretaker — usually a parent — fakes another person’s illness. While the general public may think these cases as rare, data suggests they are more common than many realize, said Dr. Marc Feldman, an expert in factitious disorders and clinical professor of psychiatry and adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Alabama.
The most frequently identified cases usually involve a mother falsifying a child’s illness, Feldman said. Often, parents fake a child’s sickness for attention or to gain admiration from others. Oftentimes, the diagnosis goes hand-in-hand with untreated personality disorders.
Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome can also be difficult for medical staff and authorities to catch if they are not trained to recognize the signs.
Due to the lack of understanding surrounding these cases — and a lack of criminal statutes — prosecution of a perpetrator can be difficult. Court decisions in these cases can be “unreasonably lax,” Feldman said.