As an increasing number of LGBT couples choose to adopt, the story of one of the most disturbing and bizarre cases of DCFS removing a child after hospital doctors claim Medical Child Abuse serves as a warning.
By Gretchen Rachel Hammond
Part 1 of 4
In March last year, Michelle Rider and her then 19-year-old son Isaiah made the trip from their home in Kansas City, Missouri to the islands of Fiji. There, they drank the from mineral waters of Natadradave Village. Fiji was still recovering from a tropical cyclone and it was rumored that the water, which flowed from the lush, surrounding mountains, could heal.
Michelle and Isaiah thought it was well worth a try but not in the hope of a miracle that would cure an excruciating medical condition with which Isaiah had been living since he was a child.
They needed to heal as a mother and son who, one Spring day in 2014, were needlessly ripped away from each other by the State of Illinois.
For the over two years which followed, Michelle and Isaiah were helpless as the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) engaged in an inexplicable vendetta to keep them apart employing measures which crossed both State lines and those of the downright bizarre.
At around four-years-old, Isaiah was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type 1—a presently incurable and agonizing condition which causes the growth of sometimes cancerous tumors in the nervous system, on the spinal cord, brain and across the skin. Isaiah’s tumors grew on the inside of his body.
Often debilitating pain became his constant companion. Regardless, Isaiah nurtured childhood dreams which ranged from becoming an actor and filmmaker to following the inspiration of Michelle’s 20-year career in nursing and entering the medical field himself in order to help people in whatever way he could.
Without a father involved, Michelle and her family did their level best to make his young days as happy as possible. The bond between mother and son was heightened and unassailable. The two vacationed everywhere from the Alamo to Disney World. Isaiah’s boundless spirit often surpassed his physical limitations.
“I was his advocate, his voice and I wanted him to be normal and healthy,” Michelle recalled. “But we did not know what normal really was. From age six to 15 he spent his childhood in braces, walkers and wheelchairs. That was our normal and we just dealt with it.”
But Michelle could not just watch him suffer. So, she ferried Isaiah to hospitals located both in their home-State of Missouri and Boston, Massachusetts hoping to find some way to alleviate his pain. Like any parent would in her situation, she devoured knowledge of his condition. As a nurse, Michelle trusted that both she and Isaiah’s doctors were all on the same page when it came to giving Isaiah as much of a chance at a good life as possible.
“I had worked with doctors. I had a rapport with them,” she said. “One of them would tell me ‘if this was my son, this is what I would do.’ But, looking back, they failed us.”
One day after his 15th birthday, Isaiah’s left leg was amputated at Mercy Children’s Hospital in Kansas City following multiple surgeries spanning the ten years since he had broken it at school.
“They literally told us that he was going to be normal,” Michelle remembered. “That he would have a prosthesis and not even be handicapped. I felt like it was a decision Isaiah needed to make. Even though he was a minor, this was something that was going to affect him for the rest of his life.”
Within 24 hours of Isaiah’s decision to go ahead with the surgery, his remaining limb began to involuntarily move. The nerves were firing in unbroken waves of unbearable pain which doctors were at a loss to control.
“It was so excruciating that he said he wanted to die,” Michelle said.
She grew desperate.
Transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital, Michelle remembered doctors there trying to convince her that Isaiah’s pain was “Somatoform—all in his head.”
“But they were able to do a procedure which numbed the nerves, effectively stopping the pain and the movement,” Michelle said. “They put him on medication which we were eventually able to ween him off and he was doing well. He was working, going to school and went to the Homecoming dance. We thought the ordeal was over.”
They were wrong. It was about to get worse in ways neither Isaiah nor Michelle could ever have imagined.
One year after his visit to Boston, the pain in Isaiah’s leg started again. Doctors in Kansas City could do nothing for it. A CT Scan discovered malignant tumors. The prognosis was poor.
In March 2014, on the recommendation of another parent of a child with Neurofibromatosis. Michelle and Isaiah arrived at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago in order to see a doctor specializing in the condition.
“The doctor was called ‘The Man with the Golden Hands’,” Michelle said. “He looked at Isaiah’s scans and said he could remove the tumors which he felt were causing all the problems.”
On March 31, Isaiah had his surgery.
“The pain and the movement in his leg got worse,” Michelle said. “The doctors threw medication at him. They took him back into the Operating Room at least two more times and admitted him to the ICU.”
Michelle grew increasingly frustrated.
“My son was in pain and they were not able to help him,” she recalled. “I wanted him transferred back to Boston Children’s Hospital. They had done a procedure that had helped Isaiah for an entire year.”
Despite Lurie doctors assuring Michelle that they would agree to the transfer, Isaiah remained there for the next two weeks.
It is clear that, without Michelle’s knowledge, Lurie’s staff spent the time devising another plan which did not include a transfer to Boston.
According to court documents, filed on November 2015 in Illinois’ Appellate Court, “staff came to believe Michelle was medically abusing Isaiah by manipulating his pain management and refusing to consider non-drug pain management alternatives.”