Without hesitation, Calgary mother Jessica Taylor can recite the exact date and time her daughter Lexi Whyte was taken.
May 7th, 2012, 2:40 p.m.,” she said.
“There was no warning, nothing at all . . . they legally kidnapped her, I have said that openly hundreds of times.”
A court order specified that assessors working on behalf of Alberta’s child services believed Taylor was creating and exaggerating symptoms Lexi had been combating for one and a half years. They also took issue with subjecting the teen to treatments at a local integrative medicine centre operating outside of Alberta Health Services’ umbrella.
Lexi wasn’t given a chance to say goodbye to her parents. She would spend the next six months in hospital and then a group home. During that time, the youngster missed out on celebrating her 16th birthday, her beloved ballet lessons and her grandfather’s funeral.
She also reported a worsening of longstanding symptoms — frequent vomiting, widespread rashes, peeling skin and others. At one point, Lexi fractured two teeth while gritting through the pain.
Now, back at home together, both mother and daughter admit their relationship may never be the same but hope to use their claims as a warning to other families.
Patient confidentiality laws prevented Alberta child services spokesperson Roxanne Dube-Coelho from speaking specifically about Lexi’s case, but she said apprehension of a child is always the “last resort.”
“We need to prove to a judge that his child is at risk in the care of their parent and that there are no other options to ensure that child’s safety,” she said.
Medical records indicate surgeons conducted a biopsy of a skull lesion on the teenager’s head in May 2011. A scar is visible on Lexi’s scalp and the 16-year-old jokes a few hairs along the incision line stick up straight unless she parts them a particular way.
Even after the operation, the family reported that symptoms remained; however, court records show they were beginning to face opposition from the medical community.
“It was determined at (a) meeting that Lexi’s condition is not consistent with her diagnosis of the lesion and subsequent surgery,” a portion of the documents read.
The family did begin to seek second opinions in early 2012, eventually landing at the doorstep of the Hoffman Centre for Integrative Medicine.
“What else could we do?” said Lexi’s stepfather Tyrone Jansz said. “We couldn’t just move on and pretend everything’s alright.”
According to court documents, the centre engaged Lexi in a cleansing process that saw portions of her blood temporarily removed and run under ultraviolet light.
While Lexi and her parents reported some improvement in symptoms, an assessor submitted claims to a judge that claim the process is illegal when conducted outside of a hospital. A court order was issued on the claim Lexi had suffered “Emotional abuse due to exposure to mental health.”
An accompanying medical query questioned whether Taylor suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a rare form of child abuse that involves a parent or caregiver exaggerating and fabricating illnesses or symptoms of a child.
Taylor said she was never given a chance to defend herself in court.
The court order specified she would be required to participate in treatment or remedial programs; however, Taylor said this never occurred.
As well, Taylor was quick to point out that the assessor makes no reference to concern for the care of her other two children, one older and one younger than Lexi.
Dube-Coelho from Alberta child services said, however, each child would be assessed independently and recommendations can vary from case-to-case.
On Dec. 17, more than six months after she was apprehended, an application was withdrawn in court without explanation and the youngster returned home.
Today Lexi said she’s feeling somewhat better and has been slowly ramping up her food intake and time spent in school.
Her official diagnosis is “unexplained pain syndrome” and Taylor said the family is concerned because it has yet to be provided with any indication of future treatment.
“It feels, in a way, like we have been punished for raising concerns when we were watching her die,” she added.
Lexi is eyeing a career as an art therapist. She doesn’t believe her physical pain will ever completely subside but said the emotional trauma was far worse.
“I just want these people to know they hurt this family,” she said. “Everyone’s just sad and doesn’t know how to deal with the stress they’ve gone through. I want them to know they have done this to our family — it’s their fault.”
Severe cases of syndrome exist
While mother Jessica Taylor maintains she’s never been formally diagnosed with Munchausen syndrome by proxy, precedence does exist that indicates a parent can have a heavy impact on a child’s physical well-being.
The syndrome was classified by a British doctor in the 1970s to describe two instances in which mothers had fabricated, lied and induced symptoms in their children.
Charles Coleman, a Calgary psychologist and family therapist, said he hasn’t seen full-blown cases of the syndrome in his practice; however, he’s witnessed the power a parent can have over their child’s thoughts and behaviours.
“Everything’s within the realm of possibility,” Coleman said.
Patient advocacy group reviewing case
Mother Jessica Taylor said she wants a full explanation of why her daughter was apprehended and is considering legal action against Alberta child services as well.
The Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society is currently reviewing the case and co-founder Rick Lundy said he sees many issues with the apprehension, most notably the lack concern for Taylor’s other two children if in fact she was suffering from mental illness as assessors claimed.
“We know the work performed by social services is very difficult, but they need to get it right,” Lundy said. “In this case they were wrong and this poor family paid the consequences.”