On Wednesday a 42 year-old woman from Cessnock NSW appeared for a second court hearing, charged with repeatedly poisoning her nine-year-old daughter with injections of urine.
The case started in March when the girl, who suffers a rare genetic disorder, was admitted to hospital with life-endangering renal failure. Tended court papers also show she was suffering a severe rash.
Medical staff say it wasn't unusual to see the girl back in hospital. She'd been sick for years and had even become a representative for children's health charities. At one point she even danced at a Sydney Opera House fundraising event.
But on March 11 doctors noticed yeast growing in an intravenous line running to the girl's jugular. Medical staff agreed this was impossible without tampering and the Newcastle Child Abuse Squad were called. Syringes, laxatives, and urine samples were later found in the mother's handbag, leading police to a grim trail of evidence stretching back to 2008.
It's now alleged that the mother, who can't be named for legal reasons, injected her daughter with urine and regularly fed her laxatives—something which could have caused her rash. There was also evidence that she tampered with the girl's stool samples.
The case was adjourned Wednesday, until December 2, but last night 7:30 revealed how the girl's mother had been an avid blogger and regularly wrote about her daughter's health. "I wanted him [the doctor] to treat her," she wrote in a blog that's since been removed. "Do something. Anything. She was in pain and I could see she was becoming unwell."
The mother had also been an ambassador for several children's health charities.
At a glance, this case seems to be a textbook example of Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP), which describes people who deliberately hurt others for attention. The name came from an 18th century German officer, Baron von Munchausen, who was known for his thrilling yet unlikely stories.
One study in the US estimated 600 cases of MSBP occurred in 1996 alone. The numbers in Australia seem much lower, with another study estimating an annual rate of between 15.2 and 24.5 cases. Numerous allegations are proven false in both countries every year.
In a similar case last year, a 22 year-old Queensland woman received a two-year jail sentence after feeding her daughter chemo drugs that she'd bought online. The four-year-old experienced significant health effects, including bone marrow failure, while her mum gained 8000 followers on Facebook and received around $500 (€320) in donations.
Yet in both cases friends and family stood by the perpetrator. As a friend of the alleged mother in Cessnock told 7:30, "in a lot of cases of parents that are accused, there is another explanation and there are other sides to the story."
This is true and it's one of the reasons the medical community has recently turned away from the term MSBP. Since 2002, it's been officially referred to as Fabricated or Induced Illness by Carers. This term omits the word "syndrome" and therefore emphasises that it's characterised by behaviour and it's not a syndrome of its own.
In Cessnock, the accused mother has been released on bail, despite concerns she'd tamper with witnesses or try to contact her daughter. She was granted bail on the condition that she doesn't have any contact with the John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle or Westmead hospital in Sydney. She faces a maximum jail sentence of 10 years.
Police say her daughter was removed from her care in March and has since recovered.
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