Take Care of Maya: A Netflix Documentary

The Netflix documentary “Take Care of Maya” follows the child protection case of Maya
Kowalski, a young girl in Venice, Florida, whose parents were accused of medical neglect.
When Maya became ill in 2015, her mother Beata, an infusion nurse, stopped at nothing to
figure out what was wrong with Maya. She was ultimately diagnosed with Complex Regional
Pain Syndrome, a complicated, rare diagnosis. Maya underwent an intensive treatment in
Mexico in November 2015 that included five days in a ketamine-induced coma.

Afterward, she continued low doses of ketamine and made improvements for more than a year.
But then Maya relapsed in 2017; her rapidly deteriorating health led her father Jack to take her
to the emergency room at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Despite confirmation from Maya’s physician about the Complex Regional Pain Syndrome,
hospital staff took issue with Beata’s demeanor, seeing her as pushy and overreactive about her
daughter’s health. Jack and Beata found themselves in the crosshairs of doctors and child
abuse investigators, who accused Beata specifically of medical child abuse. They issued a no-
contact order against Beata, who collapsed in the courtroom and was required to go for
psychological evaluation.

For more than three months, the court continued to side with the hospital and would not allow
Maya and her mother to see each other. In December, when the court denied the two the
opportunity to even share a hug, Beata committed suicide after being separated from her
daughter for months, leaving behind a note for Judge Lee E. Haworth detailing her concerns
about the treatment Maya was receiving in the hospital. Shortly after Beata’s death, Jack was
allowed to take Maya to another specialist who confirmed the diagnosis of Complex Regional
Pain Syndrome.

A news story about the Kowalski family lead to hundreds of reports from others families who
had also been accused of medical child abuse, some of them losing their children to the foster
care system and others actually serving prison time for child abuse. Many of them pointed to the
same child abuse investigator, Dr. Sally Smith, who investigated the Kowalskis.

In Pinellas County, where the hospital is located, children are almost two and half times as likely
to be removed from their families than the state average. Despite the fact that Beata was no
longer living, her meticulous record keeping of Maya’s health journey and recording of phone
calls and interactions with the hospital staff, made it possible for the Kowlaskis to sue the
hospital. In December 2023, a jury awarded the Kowalski family $260 million in damages after
concluding that Maya was falsely imprisoned by Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. In
addition, the jury found the hospital guilty of fraudulently billing the family and causing them
severe emotional distress. The jury also found that “social worker Catherine Bedy had battered
Maya and Dr. Sally Smith medically neglected her,” according to Fox News reports.

The documentary is a look into one family’s experience of being falsely accused of child abuse.
It’s heartbreaking to witness the damage that can be caused by misguided child welfare
investigations. “Take Care of Maya” could help our readers better understand the challenges
families accused of child abuse sometimes face, and the mental and emotional impacts of
children and families separated by foster care experience. •

“Take Care of Maya”
A Story Syndicate Production, 2023, 1 hour, 44 minutes

— Reviewed by Kim Phagan-Hansel