Hospital Takes Baby because Family Asked for a Second Opinion*
By Terri LaPoint
When Lakisha Tanna’s infant grandson was transferred to Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, she thought that he was in the best place he could be to receive the care that he needed for his medical condition. She never dreamed that this choice would eventually result in her adorable grandchild being what she terms “medically kidnapped” more than a year later. On March 12, the family faces a hearing to determine whether Malik, now 2 1/2, will be able to return home to his grandparents who love him, or forever become a ward of the state of Illinois.
Readers may recall that Lurie Children’s Hospital is the same hospital that seized custody of teenager Isaiah Rider, a Missouri resident who was being treated at Lurie for his rare medical condition. Like Isaiah’s mom Michelle, Lakisha trusted this hospital with her child’s life, believing that Lurie was “supposed to be a place that has children’s best interest at heart.”
The “Cardinal Sin” Of Questioning Doctors
Malik Mitchel was born on July 5, 2012, with a medical condition that resulted in his small intestine being surgically removed, known as short gut syndrome. At 6 days of age, his family transferred him to Lurie, where he would spend the next 8 months. Because of factors related to his serious medical needs, the family made the decision to transfer guardianship to his grandparents.
Shortly after this transfer, a social worker from Lurie approached Lakisha with a proposal to make Malik a ward of the state, “putting inferences on the benefits of a financial gain” for his grandmother, a proposal which she promptly declined.
According to federal guidelines, children who are wards of the state may be enrolled in medical research studies without their families’ knowledge or consent. This disturbing fact came into the light during the Justina Pelletier case, where Boston Children’s Hospital and Connecticut CPS seized the teenager over a disagreement about a diagnosis.
“Justina’s Law” Seeks to End Experimental Medical Research on Children Seized by Child Protection Services
At the time, Lakisha was unaware of the ramifications of his becoming a ward of the state; she and her husband simply wanted to be there for her grandson, and provide him with the love and care that family can provide better than any stranger or institution. That is what families are for and have been since the beginning of human history.
Malik was discharged from Lurie on March 18, 2013, and was sent home with an in-home nurse. Another nurse came by weekly to draw labs. During this time, Lakisha switched paediatricians to one who was closer to her home. He was receiving all of his nutrition via IV (TPN). He battled bouts of diarrhoea, and his weight frequently fluctuated.
Lurie Calls Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline over Appointment Missed Because of Car Trouble
In July, Lakisha missed a scheduled appointment with a GI doctor she says because her car broke down. A social worker from the hospital, Joanne Singleton, phoned DCFS (child protective services), reporting her to the abuse and neglect hotline. Apparently there were some abnormal lab results that they had planned to address during the appointment.
Malik was later admitted to the hospital, where he was taken off the TPN due to increased risks with long-term use. A G-tube feeding tube was inserted. Later, Lakisha learned that the alleged abnormal labs were unfounded.
Despite the change in his feeding plan, he still suffered from diarrhoea off and on. Lakisha reports that the formula they place him on was difficult for him to tolerate. However, when she tried to make suggestions about his nutritional issues and care, it seemed to her that the staff took offense rather than trying to work with them.
Warning about Lurie
Lakisha reports that a DCFS investigator told her at this time “to be careful,” because “they receive a lot of calls from Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital on minority families.” Lakisha holds a Master’s degree in social work, and is a hospital social worker herself, but she had no idea what she was about to face in her battle to provide the best possible care for her little boy.
Mistaken Report Leads to Hospitalization
After the last hospital discharge the number of in-home nursing hours were reduced from 98 hours per week to 56, and a different agency provided the services. On October 24, 2013, Lakisha received a call to bring Malik in to Lurie Hospital immediately, due to weight loss reported by the nursing agency. Though it was late in the day, she took him in. He was weighed and labs were drawn. He had a weight loss of almost a pound and a half. However, this was a far cry from the report which prompted the urgent call. The coordinator at the in-home nursing agency had allegedly reported a weight loss of 6 to 7 pounds!
Despite the obvious mistake, they insisted on admitting Malik to the hospital. Lakisha reports that this was quite confusing to her. She asked for an admitting diagnosis, but no one could ever tell her why he was being admitted. The next day, further tests were ordered “which didn’t make any sense,” but she agreed to them. Everything came back within normal limits. Still, Malik remained hospitalized.
Request for Second Opinion Denied; Custody Seized
By this point in Malik’s short life, he had already been subjected to 4 surgeries, but he still had repeated issues with his weight fluctuating. Lakisha expressed her concerns about the care he was receiving and asked to get a second opinion. She began talking about transferring his care to another hospital. The right to seek a second opinion and better treatment options are concepts which have long been assumed by the American public to be both the right and the responsibility of parents. However, much like Michelle Rider and the Pelletiers, Lakisha learned that some hospitals do not see it the same way.
When Lakisha got to the hospital to visit her grandson on December 5, she was shocked to find that Lurie had restricted her from visitation. She says that a social worker walked her to Malik’s room to kiss him good-bye, but she was not permitted to stay to visit. The next day, DCFS seized custody of Malik, citing medical neglect.
It was not until Christmas Eve that she was finally able to visit him again, under supervision. On December 26, Lakisha received a voicemail that DCFS had made the decision to “indicate” her, meaning that they would put her on an abuse and neglect registry. She reports that she was not able to make any kind of defense or participate in the telephone conference call where the decision was made.
Malik Ready to Be Discharged, then Has Surgery
Though a DCFS worker allegedly stated to the court on December 6 that Malik was medically ready for discharge from the hospital, Lurie scheduled him for surgery on January 15, 2014. Lakisha was not told why he needed the surgery, nor did she give her consent. She was not even permitted to be present for her grandson’s surgery. It was only later that Lakisha learned that the procedure was for a bowel blockage. Even so, Malik continued to experience problems with weight fluctuations after going into state custody.
Later, the judge in the case allegedly asked why the surgery was done, but the GAL (Guardian ad Litem) was unable to explain it. Lakisha reports that she testified that she had learned that it was for a bowel blockage. He allegedly said that it sounded like it had a biological cause, unrelated to anything that the grandmother had done.
Because Malik is a child with serious medical needs, the Tannas suspect that some of the “uninformed experimentation procedures” that Malik has been subjected to are part of the reason that he was taken from them in the first place. A number of activists studying the problem of medical kidnapping have repeatedly asserted that children like Malik, with medically complex issues, are cash cows to the system and to the hospitals involved.
Dealing with the System
Malik’s time is alternated between Lurie Children’s Hospital, Almost Home Kids – a transitional facility owned by Lurie, and a foster home with strangers.
At one point Malik’s Guardian ad Litem filed a motion which would have isolated the baby from any contact with any family members or friends besides his grandparents, but the request was denied.
However, Lakisha has been prohibited from attending Malik’s doctors appointments, despite a court order to the contrary. Joanne Singleton, a Lurie social worker has allegedly placed a restriction forbidding Malik’s grandmother to come to Lurie or Almost Home Kids unless she is accompanied by a DCFS social worker. The restriction remains even though a copy of the court order has been provided to both facilities.
Even though Lakisha has limited visitation rights to see her baby, even those visits have been sporadic, sometimes cancelled due to lack of a worker to supervise, sickness of the worker, sickness of the baby, or unavailability of the foster family. This is very difficult emotionally for the family.
Lakisha and Malik at a recent visit. Source: For the loveof Malik Facebook page.
Lurie has allegedly not been happy with the foster parents either. When the foster mother questioned the formula that Lurie had prescribed, she took Malik to a GI specialist at another hospital for a second opinion. She actually did what Lakisha has merely talked about doing. Someone at Lurie allegedly became very angry and called the child abuse hotline on the foster mother. She is now allegedly under investigation.
Court Ruling in October
According to Lakisha, a DCFS worker filed a parenting report stating that Malik would be better off with a stay-at-home mom than Lakisha, because she works. This, despite the fact that Malik has in-home nursing care when he is with the Tannas. She states that the report also says,
“me wanting a second opinion was just a sign that I was in denial of Malik’s condition.” (Note: with Michelle Rider, her request for a second opinion for Isaiah was seen as a sign that she was guilty of Munchausen by Proxy.)
The adjudication hearings have ended and the judge ruled against Lakisha on October 15, 2014, allegedly stating that he would have to go with the opinion of the expert witness. There was no evidence of abuse presented. According to Lakisha, this expert witness was a Child Abuse Specialist from Lurie, Dr. Norell Rosado – a doctor that she had never even seen. He allegedly stated that Malik wasn’t behaving like a normal child; however, the timing that he saw Malik was when he was very sick with diarrhoea. The judge allegedly cited neglect because Lakisha failed to take Malik for a follow-up visit with the paediatrician. She states that she was not permitted to give her simple explanation in court: that Malik had been readmitted to Lurie for a 3 week hospital stay at the time the follow-up was supposed to occur.
Final Hearing Scheduled for March 12
There is one final chance for Lakisha to get her grandson back, or lose him forever. A dispositional hearing is scheduled for Thursday, March 12, at 1:30 pm at the Juvenile Detention Center, 1100 S. Hamilton, Chicago. Supporters are invited to come and show support for the family.
A previous dispositional hearing was continued because no plan for going forward could be agreed upon. Malik’s Guardian ad Litem and the State Attorney are “fighting to make Malik a Ward of the State of Illinois,” while Lakisha’s attorney and DCFS support Malik being returned to his home with his grandparents.
Regarding the hearing, Lakisha states:
“This is final for me and as a grandmother I was told that I have no legal rights to Malik. Therefore if the Judge doesn’t rule in my favour, I would lose him to the system forever. So I don’t know what to do besides continue to fight back and pray.”
Lakisha was recently a guest on “The Captain,” a blogtalk radio show. Her heartbreaking story may be heard here.
A Facebook page has been set up to support the family – For the love of Malik.
In a strange twist of connection, Michelle Rider’s final hearing for her son Isaiah Rider, also in Chicago, also taken by DCFS and Lurie Children’s Hospital, is the day before Lakisha and Malik’s hearing. Lakisha’s powerful words speak not only for her family, but also for the Riders, and for every other family whose child has been taken away from them for disagreeing with doctors and seeking a second opinion:
“Making a child a ward of the state that comes from a good, loving home that cares for him, to be lost in a system and separated from his family is not in the BEST INTEREST of the child. In the midst of trying to find a solution for my child’s health problems, this institution [Lurie Children’s Hospital] has caused me and my family nothing but great pain, grief, and stress.”
Bruce Rauner is the Governor of the State of Illinois, and may be reached at 217-782-0244 or 312-814-2121, and contacted here.
The Tannas State Representative is Marcus C. Evans, Jr. He may be reached at 217-782-8272 , and contacted here.
Donne E. Trotter is their Senator, and he may be reached at 217-782-3201, and contacted here.