A Dallas judge listened from the bench Friday as witnesses talked about eight years of unnecessary medical procedures a small child endured at the hands of his mother.
State District Judge Ernest White said in his time on the bench he had not heard testimony more disturbing.
White sentenced Kaylene Bowen to six years in prison for manipulating health care professionals into performing hundreds of unnecessary medical procedures and 13 unnecessary surgeries on her son during an eight-year period.
Kaylene Bowen, 36, pleaded guilty in August to causing serious bodily injury to a child after authorities accused her of subjecting her son to years of sometimes painful and unnecessary medical tests, surgeries and procedures.
Bowen, who was probation eligible, was facing two to 20 years in prison on the second-degree felony. Bowen elected to have a judge assess her sentence.
Christopher Bowen was 8 when he and his two-half siblings were removed from their mother by Child Protective Services in November 2017 over allegations that the mother had been lying and exaggerating about her son’s health.
Christopher’s father, Ryan Crawford, tried to convince Dallas County family court judges for years that his son was not sick but they believed Bowen. One judge even prohibited Crawford from visits with his son, who was then 3.
Crawford said he had to learn to use all types of medical equipment in order to visit Christopher. Then Crawford had to take up the mantle of investigator and gather medical records from the various doctors and hospitals that his son visited to try and prove that he was healthy and not on the verge of death.
Crawford said it was a mistake to try and represent himself in his case. It cost him a lot of time that he could have been spending with his son, he said.
But Crawford said the turning point came after he saw an article about another child suffering from a mother caught in the throes of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, and reached out.
“I made a post on Facebook saying that I was going through the same thing,” Crawford said. “And someone replied and said if I was serious, they could help.”
Still, Crawford said — with all the procedures, all the doctors involved, and the judges and legal and social service workers who looked at this case — someone should have seen that something was wrong.
“Now you see,” Crawford said about the people who never believed him at first. “I’m glad there was a judge that was able to stand up for Christopher. Medical abuse is something that is very difficult for any of us to understand. It’s difficult to understand that a mother could do this to their child. So having to gather all the evidence that’s needed to prove something like this is a large task.”
For people in the legal profession, doctors and other health care professionals, this is something they need to learn more about, Crawford said.
We don’t know it when we see it
Dallas hospital staff sounded the alarm with CPS, which led to the boy’s removal and Bowen’s arrest.
Crawford is the sole managing conservator of Christopher and gets to make all the decisions regarding where his son lives, attends school and the medical treatment he receives. Bowen is allowed supervised visits.
Crawford said his son, now 10, does well academically and is very athletic. The boy has no medical issues and has only needed to go to the doctor for physicals each year, Crawford said.
Crawford testified that he and Bowen never really had a relationship, but they did have a baby together. The goal was to co-parent, Crawford said.
But a few months after Christopher was born, Crawford said, he began to see less and less of him. Crawford said he had himself placed on child support and began to hear Bowen say that Christopher was very ill.
She had said that Christopher had a problem digesting milk, and because he had been born premature, that did not seem strange to his father.
But other ailments that she claimed Christopher suffered from, such as muscular dystrophy and that he would never walk, were harder for him to swallow, Crawford said. As the couple participated in family court, Crawford said several times Bowen would say that his son was near death and only had a few weeks left to live.
“It was just one thing after another after our first appearance in court,” Crawford said.
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.
In its 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.
Catherine Ayoub, an expert brought in to testify about the disorder, said the women who exhibit the constellation of symptoms that define Munchausen are cunning and expert and deceiving health care professionals into believing them.
According to her research, it typically takes medical investigators five years or more to identify women such as Bowen who afflict their children with unnecessary medicine, Ayoub said. Deception is primary in the process, Ayoub said.
Between 97 and 99 percent of the perpetrators of Munchausen are women and they learn how to become master impostors, Ayoub said.
“They research,” Ayoub said. “They pick conditions that are hard to detect with a single lab test. Health care professionals are taken in because of the skill of the women who are playing that role.”
Suzanne Dakil, a pediatrician at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, said most of their patients will not talk to them because they are either babies or young children. So pediatricians are conditioned to believe the caregiver, the person who spends the most time with the child, the mother.
“Our inclination is to try and be exhaustive,” Dakil said. “You don’t want to tell the mother she is lying, and what if you are wrong? Most physicians don’t care much for lawyers and are afraid of getting sued.”
Bowen, who also goes by the last name of Wright, had even started or been the subject of fundraisers, claiming that Christopher was dying, initially from a rare genetic disorder and later from cancer.
Authorities alleged she had her son fitted with a feeding tube that fed directly into his small intestine and led to multiple life-threatening blood infections. They said she also tried to get him on the lung transplant list and had him in hospice care.
“I knew of a referral from Make-a-Wish,” Dakil said. “Lots of children are referred because they have a degenerative disease that might keep them from doing something later. But I can see how that could be construed by a parent and get them to believe that things are worse than they really are.”
This story contains information from Star-Telegram archives.