This time last year, Christopher Bowen was dying.
The 8-year-old boy was on oxygen, used a wheelchair off and on, had a feeding tube and an IV in his arm.
But today, gone is the feeding tube, the wheelchair, the need for a lung transplant, and the cancer, his father, Ryan Crawford said. He doesn’t even wear prescription glasses.
And all this happened not because of a medical miracle, Crawford says, but simply because his son was removed from his mother’s care.
A year ago, Child Protective Services removed Christopher and his two-half siblings from their mother, Kaylene Bowen, over allegations that the mother was lying and exaggerating about her son’s health, prompting the child to undergo painful and unneeded medical tests and procedures.
In their petition for removal, CPS referenced medical records that showed Christopher had been seen 323 times at hospitals and pediatric centers in Dallas and Houston and underwent 13 major surgeries, all between 2009 and 2016.
The agency also referenced GoFundMe accounts created by or for Bowen that claimed Christopher was dying, initially from a rare genetic disorder and later from cancer.
On Monday, the Child Protective Services case drew to a close with 301st Family District Court Judge Mary Brown’s approval of a mediated agreement reached between the parities.
Under the agreement, Crawford is now sole managing conservator of Christopher and gets to make all the decisions regarding where the now 9-year-old lives, attends school and the medical treatment he receives.
Christopher, who the judge ruled will now go by his father’s last name, will also be allowed visits with his two half-siblings, who both now reside with their own biological fathers.
But also under the agreement, Bowen will be allowed two-hour visits with her son every other weekend under the supervision of a licensed counselor. Beginning on Nov. 30, Bowen’s sister will be allowed to supervise one of the monthly visits.
The mother will not have to pay child support for now but must pay for the supervision by the counselor.
And Crawford will have to pay back more than $8,500 in child support and medical support that he owed before his son being removed from Bowen’s custody — an amount that his attorney, Shannon Pritchard, said was set well above state guidelines based on Bowen’s lies at previous family court hearings.
“This was something that was masterminded by Kaylene and supported because the attorney general bought her story when Christopher was 18 months old, every judge subsequently just took her testimony as truth and it wasn’t,” Pritchard said.
Pritchard said she believed Monday’s hearing was a “little bit of a victory” in that Christopher is in his father’s possession, is safe, and will have only supervised access to his mother.
“Not all moms are apple pie and aprons and sugar cookies,” Pritchard said. “Some moms are poison apples.”
“We can’t go back in time and fix that. We can’t go back in time and change Christopher’s life. We can just go forward and take care of him in the best of our ability under the law and with a father and an extended family that loves him and will take care of him.”
Bowen’s family attorney, Lindsey McKay, said she believes the agreement was a “good result” in a difficult case. She said, however, had she represented Bowen during a previous hearing in which the mother initially agreed to let her children reside with their separate fathers, she would have advised against it.
“We believe if she contested it, that the children should have never been removed,” McKay said. “CPS would have failed to provide the evidence to back up their affidavit which is riddled with allegations and erroneous facts that are not even accurate as far as her care of her three children. We do not believe they would have been removed from mom and worst case scenario, would have been placed with her family members.”
Criminal case still pending
A month after her children were taken from her by CPS, Bowen was arrested by Dallas authorities and charged with injury to a child. She was subsequently released on bond.
An indictment alleges the mother intentionally and knowingly caused serious bodily injury to her son by causing unnecessary medical procedures to be performed on the child.
Commonly known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy or medical child abuse, experts say caregivers — usually a mother — lie, exaggerate or create medical symptoms in a child in order to gain attention. In turn, doctors — dependent on the parent’s description of what’s going on with the child — perform unneeded and sometimes painful tests , procedures and surgeries on the child.
“Many people still question how does medical abuse occur,” Crawford said. “My healthy son is a living witness that this is not a fairytale.”
In August, a Dallas County grand jury indicted Bowen on an additional charge — theft between $30,000 and $150,000. She is accused of unlawfully taking money from the Social Security Administration as part of her scheme.
McKay said she believes Bowen will be acquitted on the criminal charges against her.
“We believe Kaylene is innocent,” McKay said. “We believe that there are serious diagnoses that were diagnosed by medical expert doctors and we believe she has overseen his care but it’s damned if you don’t, damned if you do, according to these allegations.
“Had mom not done what she was required to do and ordered to do by doctors, it would have been medical neglect but then mom follows orders and now it’s abuse of a child.”
An unwanted agreement
Crawford admits he did not support the mediated agreement wholeheartedly.
Crawford said he didn’t want Bowen to have any access to Christopher but felt pressured by the mediator that the judge would order it regardless of his desires.
“It was rushed,” he said. “The mediator pretty much told me if I didn’t take that agreement, CPS, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for children) and the child’s attorney were all against me. There was no way the judge would grant me what I wanted, which was no access,” Crawford said.
Louisa Lasher, a Munchausen expert who had recently began providing services to Crawford and his attorney, said she was appalled by the proposed agreement. So much so, she said, that she even sent a letter to the court last week listing her concerns.
Among her concerns was that a risk assessment evidently hadn’t been done on the mother’s sister. She also recommends that a specialized plan for contact, management and monitoring must be put in place based on that assessment.
Crawford said the mediator repeatedly told him, “How much damage could be done in two hours?”
“What do I do? Take it to trial and hope that people believe me? If they don’t, she has unlimited access,” Crawford said. “Or take the bargain, reminding myself that it’s only for two hours every other week? A very hard decision that either way can result to my child being harmed.”
In the end, he signed the agreement.
Not being believed is something with which Crawford says he has experience.
For years, he waged a battle in Dallas County family courts, insisting that the boy’s mother was lying about the boy’s health and trying to seek custody of his son. But the judges had always before sided with Bowen, one former judge even stripping away Crawford’s visits with his son.
Crawford said he reported his concerns to Child Protective Services but they took no action.
It was only after staff at a Dallas hospital raised concerns about the mother with CPS — the second such report made by medical providers since 2015 — that CPS removed Christopher and two half-siblings from Bowen’s custody in late November 2017.
Christopher would spend a month in foster care before a family judge granted temporary custody of the boy to his father just days before Christmas. She was later granted supervised visits with her son.
“The court system failed Christopher. The pain, anger and disappointment I have in the system is so overwhelming. Laws have to be changed, judges have to be voted out, and CPS has to be restructured,” Crawford said.
Today, Christopher is a fourth-grader making mostly A’s and B’s. His father says his son is very athletic, continues to undergo counseling and loves playing Fortnite.
Crawford said the only thing his son suffers from is seasonal allergies and asthma.
He said he hopes to take Christopher to Disney World one day.
Christopher has been there only one other time, as part of a Make-A-Wish trip that his mother had organized. Crawford said his son told him the best part was when he had to go to the bathroom because that was the only time he was allowed out of the wheelchair.
He had to sit in a wheelchair the entire time and not get to ride any of the rides, not get to enjoy being free and being a child that you should be at Disney World,” Crawford said.
“I want so much for Christopher and his new life. I regret I wasn’t able to save him from many years of the tragedy. It truly hurts my heart, but through my family and friends’ prayers, Christopher lived through it all.”