Nobody Should Believe Me S02

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The Verdict

Andrea and special guest Bex (aka our Florida pediatrcian friend) process the shocking verdict in the Maya Kowalski trial. After 9 weeks of testimony, the jury awarded the Kowalski family nearly $300 million in damages from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

Bex shares her perspective as a pediatrician on how this verdict will impact the medical community and reporting of suspected child abuse cases. They discuss the implications for social workers and hospital staff who stood up and testified, and grapple with how the jury seemed to side with the emotional storytelling despite medical evidence.

Andrea and Bex reflect on what this means for the U.S. justice system, mandatory reporting laws, and the public’s willingness to accept that medical child abuse exists.

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Show Notes

Host Andrea Dunlop:

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For information and resources:

The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children’s MBP Practice Guidelines can be downloaded here.

More about Dr. Marc Feldman:


[00:00:00] Hello, it’s Andrea Dunlop. This is Nobody Should Believe Me, and today we have some breaking news. As you know, this season we’ve been following the Johns Hopkins All Children’s v. Kowalski trial really closely, and we just got news about an hour ago that the jury, after two days of deliberation, has reached a verdict.

So the hospital was found liable on all counts. And the Kowalski family was awarded somewhere north of 200 million dollars. Again, this verdict came in about an hour ago, so I’ve seen different figures floating around. And I tried to do math while I was watching, and that did not turn out to be successful.

So we have a special friend here today to help us. process this news and someone who’s been watching the trial really closely with me. So, um, you may know her as [00:01:00] Secret Doctor Friend. Bex is, uh, her name slash nickname. So we’re going to call her Bex today. Hi Bex, how are you doing? I’m doing okay. I’m glad you’re here with me to process all of this because it’s been an interesting hour, I would say.

Me as well. So, You are a pediatric health professional, and I know that this news is really going to affect everybody who works in medicine, who works with kids. How does this land for you? Um, I came in today kind of knowing that it was probably going to happen today or tomorrow, so I’ve been kind of trying to play it out in my head in all versions of what I thought might play out, and I’ll admit, this is, even different than I think all of the things I had thought about.

I don’t think that people could possibly know how much this is going to impact us in the state of Florida in pediatrics, children everywhere, families everywhere. And I know there’s people with different views and [00:02:00] different thoughts and all of those things, but this is going to affect the care of children.

It is, it. It changes me from the moment that happened and I can tell you I’m with other people today and we’re, we’re all processing. Yeah, I mean, so what, what are some of the things that are going through your mind about how this is going to impact your work and, or even, you know, comments that maybe colleagues have made to you guys?

Because especially since geographically you are so So close to where this is happening. Um, what do you think the impact is going to be? I mean, I think first and foremost, it’s about mandatory reporting of any kind of child abuse. I think it’s hard enough as it is. I’ve said on other episodes and in other, at other times to you that It’s never an easy decision to call in a potential case of child abuse.

Before today, there was always that thought, oh, could the family come back, right? There’s been a couple cases where it has happened, but this is a [00:03:00] direct coming back at the physicians that were involved and then the hospital that was involved that really it comes down to for at the beginning. Reporting them for concerns of medical child abuse, and that is where this all started.

And 200 and however many million dollars later, I mean, I’m sorry, it’s that’s a huge number. And I mean, I’ve even had people say, you always thought it could maybe happen, but now it’s happened. I just know that’s gonna cause people to pause. Yeah, and that’s, that’s not what you want, obviously, in these situations.

And, you know, you and I watched the trial really closely together, and I think one of the, to me, strangest, most baffling decisions that the judge made was to bar the defense, basically, from discussing anything about medical child abuse. Well, I want to be [00:04:00] honest, I want to be angry at this jury. I also know that they sat in that courtroom for nine weeks, eight weeks, and listened to so much testimony.

And I don’t know how they could make sense of it without that context of Beata being investigated for medical child abuse. So, I mean, what, what do you make of that decision by the judge? I mean, as soon as they said yes to the false imprisonment, I, I knew it was going to probably go down like it did because the false imprisonment ended up coming down to those very few short couple day periods, um, not to the whole hospitalization because that was the part that had been told to them by the courts.

Again, without that knowledge of kind of, they never got to say, like, how much came from the courts and how much came from the state and how much truly came from the hospital. And even a lot of the emails and communications on the one side were not in evidence. So [00:05:00] they weren’t even seeing some of the things that we knew or had seen even coming into the trial.

And, you know, for example. Because of that decision, they couldn’t bring any experts, you know, originally they were going to have Mike Kelly, you know, they talked about in the pre trial conference, who’s an expert, who was actually on the committee. He was going to plan to testify, I believe, to give people context for medical child abuse.

And Dr. Sally Smith. testified, but she could only testify about a pretty narrow line of questioning because she couldn’t testify about why they believed so strongly that Beata was medically abusing Maya. And so I think without that context, it may just really look like, well, why did the hospital do this?

Why did the court do this? And I may, maybe just really gave some credence to this idea that this hospital was, you know, negligent or, However, it did sort of metabolize for the jury, and I mean, you don’t, you know, you don’t have things like Sally Smith’s report in evidence, which the fact that they could have this trial and not have that in evidence, I [00:06:00] mean, that just, it’s so, it’s so baffling.

And I mean, we saw the lawyers react to that in real time when they were told that they couldn’t bring that in. And I mean, we could speculate, obviously, but like, I don’t know if maybe the judge just didn’t understand why this was important to this case because Beata wasn’t technically on trial. But I mean, it did end up being Beata on trial, I feel like, in many ways.

And what was interesting to me is I had kind of felt like Sally Smith and Kathy Beatty had kind of felt, remember, I think on our first episode for the week to week, we were like, now it’s all about John Smith. Hopkins and the doctors and all the things they were doing and really we hadn’t heard Sally Smith or Kathy Beatty all that much in kind of the pre trial prep.

And then all of a sudden on the last day, he ended with Kathy Beatty, Mr. Anderson on his closing statements and the parts where she was an agent of the hospital, I believe, and then the. count about Kathy Beatty were where the most money was awarded. So it was almost like those came back around at the end.

Yeah. So what you’re talking about is the two battery charges that were included. And so Kathy Beatty was [00:07:00] dismissed from the lawsuit, but then it was more like she was just kind of like rolled into Johns Hopkins as a entity. So they charged her with battery for two things, for the photos that were taken before and after Maya’s discharge, and also for, I believe, the hugging Maya and putting her on her lap.

And I have to say that was a really complicated one to try and unpack because you just really ultimately ended up with two versions of, of what happened there. But I, I did sort of think about also the impact on social workers. Given that Kathy Beatty was so vilified, and I mean, they did talk about the fact that DCF recognizes that there are some situations where physical contact is really appropriate and necessary, and that’s because you have a child who’s sheltered from their family, and You don’t want a child to be in distress, crying, et cetera, and not have any adult feel like they can touch them under those circumstances.

And now, I [00:08:00] mean, I can’t imagine social workers aren’t thinking, well, that’s the last time I’m ever going to, like, put my hand on a child, you know, lest I be dragged up and accused of battering a child for that. But, you know, I think if you want to know the plaintiff’s story, you know, the story they told at court is the same as the Netflix film, right?

It was the same thing, same villains, same sort of narrative, right? This mom killed herself because of the way they framed it was, you know, the legal language is irresistible impulse. And it was this maternal urge and in his closing, Gregory Anderson, who’s lead attorney for the Kowalskis, compared it to, this is the same thing as if a mother threw herself in front of a car to save her toddler.

And I have to say, and this is my opinion, after watching this, I think the hospital intervening probably saved this girl’s life. And that’s important for me to say today because I think that the people that intervened bravely [00:09:00] on behalf of this child are being punished for it to the utmost degree. And that is going to have such huge ramifications.

But I think that narrative of a wronged family, the underdog family against this big system, you know, watching Kyle and Maya on the stand. And just to underscore, I have still the utmost sympathy for those kids. They are not culpable for any of this. None of this was their decision, and I feel so badly for them.

I think that they have been through so much, but like, I just think maybe there was a narrative there that was so much stronger and so much more appealing, and we know how hard it is to get people to accept that medical child abuse exists, that a mother would put their child in harm’s way. I wonder, do you think it was the strength of that emotional story that won out over all of the facts, all of the evidence, all of the testimony?

Even as limited as it was, it seemed so [00:10:00] overwhelming to me that you have doctor after doctor saying, this is not symptomatic of CRPS. This is 50 times as much ketamine as you would ever give a person. You have Beata’s blog post about this is enough to kill a horse. And do you think the emotional story of the family just overrode all of that?

I mean, it had to have. The one thing that I’ve been talking about with kind of other physicians and people in the medical field is, you know, the idea of having a jury trial is the idea of having a jury of your peers, correct? I mean, that’s, that’s the technical, that’s what we buy into, right? In America is that you have a trial by your peers.

And the truth is that anyone who had any connection to the medical field, was nixed as a juror pretty much right out of the gate because they could have a conflict of interest. But they were tried by a jury of the plaintiff’s peers, in a way, if you think about it. You know, it’s down home Florida, America of, you know, people, that’s who is on the jury.

And [00:11:00] they, unfortunately, I don’t think that the other side truly had their peers on the jury because peers would have understood some of the medical terminology and just the background that I have that I can’t erase out of my brain that makes me see some of this. in a different way just by default because of what I’ve seen and been through.

Yeah, that’s a really good point. And I think we saw this. It was, you know, the closing arguments for the two sides were such a study in contrast, right? Because on the Kowalski side, you have Gregory Anderson and throughout the trial, he used extremely inflammatory language. He has kind of an outlandish Style of delivery, shall we say?

And, you know, he really went hard when he was starting his clothing. He was like, this is a great American family. They’re patriots. I mean, he was using some very sort of, um, like, I felt sort of coded language. Um, you know, [00:12:00] and like his descriptions of Beata as, you know, this like sort of mother protector.

And I think he’s hitting on some. really strong archetypes for people. And they showed, you know, these visuals like Jack Kowalski and his firefighter uniform and the family on the 4th of July. And they were like really going hard for this sort of big institution versus down home all American family. And I can see where that would be effective.

And then on the other side, you know, you had Ethan Shapiro delivering the closing. And I mean, I thought he did a wonderful job, especially given the constraints that he had. But it’s like you have, you know, someone trying to line up the facts and. It’s very sort of like, more sort of highbrow way of speaking, and this isn’t to say like, Oh, one side’s dumb and the other side, it’s not about that.

It’s sort of about, this is the sort of elite institutional thing versus the nice hardworking family thing. And I think obviously that rhetoric was effective. I agree. Because just Mr. Shapiro’s organization through his closing arguments where every slide had a link to what note you could find that [00:13:00] information in and how it went from 2015 straight through the end and it stayed on course.

Again, as a physician, I’m looking at these notes from multiple physicians along the way and I’m watching this narrative play out and almost from If I could even take myself out of knowing the story, I can’t help but think, I mean, some people I know in medicine have not been following like I have, you know, and have sat and, you know, watched some of the end with me or, or been there for the end.

And they’re like, what’s the question? You know what I mean? Because again, you can’t unsee it from our point of view or where we see it from. And it doesn’t mean We all think automatically that something is what a physician says it is. It’s more that when you line up all the pieces of the narrative. And I’m just not sure that the jury had that kind of depth to truly understand what they were trying to come through with at the end.

And the tears at the end of Whitney’s part of the closing. [00:14:00] I mean, I heard from multiple people that, you know, three of the jurors were sobbing at the end. I mean, I’m I’m sorry, even though Shapiro started with, this has to come from a place of fact and not a place of feeling and sympathy, it already was there.

Yeah. It was already there. And I think again, that’s like, it’s, it’s almost just, it’s, it’s kind of bringing a knife to a gunfight when you have, you know, when you’re watching kids who’ve lost their mom. I mean that. is a tragedy, no matter how you slice it, and obviously Maya is also a beautiful 17 year old blonde girl, and that has kind of a cultural power all its own.

And I think also just, as I was thinking, you know, I, I called my mom after I heard the verdict, and she just said, like, remember what it was like for us when we were trying to wrap our heads around this, you know, remember how hard it

was for us, and it was, You know, we were right there and I think like, I do sympathize with [00:15:00] the fact that if you are not already familiar with it, and they didn’t have anyone to explain it to them, right, like they didn’t have anyone to give them that context of medical child abuse, even if they had, that’s still like, I know how difficult of a pill that is to swallow and I think what this reinforces for me is that people would rather believe anything than believe that.

They’d rather live in a world where, I think it’s, to be totally frank, I think it’s a more comforting world when it’s a negligent. institution with these couple particular bad actors that were arrogant and just, you know, not paying attention and had it out for mom. Like, that’s a more comforting world to live in, honestly, than living in the world where this is a parent that intentionally does this to their child.

And I think people will reach for any other explanation, and I’ve seen that many times with very smart people, not, not a matter of, of sort of intellectual capacity, just [00:16:00] the sheer sort of visceral horror of it is not something that a lot of people are willing to accept, I think, in some cases. I agree.

And I mean, I even as a physician, some days I’ve said to Andrea, like the times I have been involved, like how badly you’re searching for something to prove you wrong. Honestly, you want to go back and see that there is some other reason or some other explanation because I am a mom and I am a pediatrician and I don’t want to believe it exists.

And I absolutely am probably one of the biggest believers that it does. And it’s terrible when it does. I mean I think it’s partly why I want to be such a voice for it or want to be so involved is because it is almost the unexplainable. It’s something that I don’t know if there will ever be a cut and dry black and white this is why it happens and this is how we fix it.

Yeah. So just to kind of close out here, I know [00:17:00] there’s a lot of medical professionals that listen to our show and I just wonder, you know, what you’d like to say To them, as we’re all processing this news, because I agree with you. I think that people who are a step removed from this don’t understand. How big of an impact this is going to have and like even you know when I was interviewing Laura Richards and I sort of asked her about this idea of a chilling effect and she said well I don’t think you know one case has a chilling effect and I think that’s a that’s a misunderstanding of how big this case is to this particular context of being in a hospital where you’re reporting child abuse.

And so, I know everyone, I mean everyone in my, in my professional life on that side has been watching this trial. I got a million text messages when the verdict came in. So, what do you want to say to your fellow medical professionals and especially those who work in pediatrics today? I mean, of course, I would say we have to keep reporting.

I don’t know, that sounds Maybe simple, but it’s not. Um, we have to have the same eyes we [00:18:00] had before this. We have to be looking for the same things we were before this, and we still have to keep the child at the center of everything because if we stop doing that, that, that scares me. And honestly, that’s a world of pediatrics that I don’t really want to be in.

And I At the end of the day, I work for, you know, most pediatricians work for some bigger organization, whether it’s just a group of physicians that you’re a part of, or, you know, a bigger institution like a Johns Hopkins All Children’s. The individual physician is not being sued for 220 million dollars, right?

At this point, or 200, whatever, it’s the whole organization. But that being said, every individual who stepped up there in the trial, everyone who testified on the defense… names are there. People know who they are. And I’m sorry, that changes their life. It’s, it’s, it does. And I don’t know if they’re gonna have to leave where they love or where their kids are growing up or where their families are.

And so it’s not about the money. I mean, the money is hard for me to grasp in the moment. [00:19:00] But it’s not about that. It’s about us trying honestly to come to work and do what’s best for the kids and I just hope we can still do that. Yeah, I think as my sort of closing thought, I do always want people to remember the stakes.

You know, Olivia Gant was a six year old little girl in Colorado who the hospital suspected. They recorded their suspicions and they didn’t report. She was allowed to leave with her mother and go into hospice care and she died there. And eventually that murder was investigated because she Mother brought her other child in for unnecessary cancer treatment and that hospital was sued.

So I mean, we are putting healthcare providers in a really horrible position, and we have to remember the stakes. And those are the stakes. It is life or death. So the people who reported in this case, the people who testified in this [00:20:00] case are to be commended for their bravery. They’re gonna pay a huge price with a reputation, with the harassment they’re gonna get.

I have no doubt but. If you are in that position, just know that we are with you and we see you. And I was going to say I, I want to thank them from other pediatricians because I could feel it when they were on the stand. I mean, I, I cannot imagine what that was like for them. And at the same time, I’m grateful.

I’m grateful to the defense. I know my bias is there. I mean, I can’t, I can’t say otherwise at this point, but I just want to say that that is a hard thing to do regardless. And they did it. And the defense got up there and did attempt to speak for physicians, not for some bureaucracy, some big, it was speaking for those physicians who, I do believe in my heart, at least, we’re trying to do what was best for the child, and I have to agree with Andrea, and this is going to put my opinion there, but I actually think they [00:21:00] saved her life.

I do. And we’ve seen the cases where it goes the other way, and they are out there for anyone who doesn’t believe they are, but they are. And I do think Maya was on the wrong. trajectory when that happened. Yeah, I think towards the end of the trial we heard the doctor who had that conversation with Beata about putting her in hospice care and that to me was one of the most powerful moments of the trial to hear that.

Um, so yeah, well, we’ll carry on. We’ll definitely be talking more about this case. This is not the last you’ll hear from us on this. And Bex, thank you for watching this whole trial with me. And thank you for being here with us today. I know it’s a sort of raw moment to, to get on and talk about your thoughts.

So thank you so much.

It is. Thank you.

In the next episode, we are bringing you part two of our verdict reaction, and we’re going to [00:22:00] bring back Jonathan Leach, who again is a lawyer and trial consultant, and he is going to help us unpack what this verdict means, what might happen next, and just the ramifications of this verdict.

That’s next time on Nobody Should Believe Me.

Nobody Should Believe Me is a production of Larj Media. Our Senior Producer is Tina Nole and our Editor is Corine Kuehlthau.

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Season 03 | Episode 13

What Now?

Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 13What Now?Just when we thought the endless saga of Kowalski v Johns Hopkins All Childrens was turns out it might only be beginning. In this episode, lead attorney for the Johns Hopkins All Childrens defense...

Special Report: Watching Take Care of Maya (re-release)
Season 03 | Episode 14

Media Circus

Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 14Media CircusThis week Andrea examines how the harrowing and complex story of the Maya Kowalski case turned into a pop culture moment, and spread dangerous misinformation in the process. We continue our conversation...

Special Report: Watching Take Care of Maya (re-release)
Season 03 | Episode 15

The Trials of Dr. Sally Smith (Season Finale: Part 1)

Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 15The Trials of Dr. Sally Smith (Season Finale: Part 1)In an exclusive interview with Dr. Sally Smith, host Andrea Dunlop travels to Florida to speak to the embattled child abuse pediatrician about her life and work and...

Special Report: Watching Take Care of Maya (re-release)
Season 03 | Episode 16

Bad Press (Season Finale: Part 2)

Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 16Bad Press (Season Finale: Part 2)In the second part of our exclusive interview with Dr. Sally Smith, we discuss how the media coverage of her reached a fever pitch and turned her life and career upside down. We explore...

Special Report: Watching Take Care of Maya (re-release)
Season 03 | Episode 17

Dangerous Women (Season Finale: Part 3)

Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 17Dangerous Women (Season Finale: Part 3)In the third and final installment of our exclusive interview with Dr. Sally Smith, she shares her side of what happened in the Maya Kowalski case, revealing how perilous Maya’s...

Special Report: Watching Take Care of Maya (re-release)

What Jack Knew

Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 18What Jack KnewAs we prepare to launch Season Four next month, we’re revisiting the subject of Season Three—the landmark Kowalski v. Johns Hopkins All Children’s verdict, in which a jury awarded Jack Kowalski more than...

Special Report: Watching Take Care of Maya (re-release)
Season 03 | Episode 19

What Happened to Beata?

Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 19What Happened to Beata?This week's episode delves into the intricate details surrounding Beata Kowalski's death, which was central to the Kowalski's lawsuit against Johns Hopkins All Children's, as well as the...

Special Report: Watching Take Care of Maya (re-release)
Season 03 | Episode 20

Kowalski Case Update with Ethen Shapiro

Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 20 Kowalski Case Update with Ethen Shapiro Join Andrea as she delves back into the ongoing legal battle of Kowalski v. Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, with Ethen Shapiro, the lead defense attorney for Johns...

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