A mother in Oklahoma is facing possible jail time for allegedly lying to numerous doctors in six different states about her daughter’s medical condition over the last decade in what’s suspected of being a case of so-called Munchausen by proxy.
Alisha Newman, 34, was charged this week with two felony counts of physical abuse and neglecting a child, according to a criminal complaint obtained by BuzzFeed News, after her 10-year-old daughter was admitted to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin apparently in severe shock and with acute renal failure, end organ damage, and acidosis.
Doctors became concerned when Newman told medical staff that her daughter had been diagnosed with multiple illnesses that the hospital, which had examined the child in 2016, had previously ruled out as possible diagnoses.
The hospital conducted an investigation into the child’s medical records going back to her birth, the complaint says, and found that Newman had “routinely provided false or misleading information to medical providers,” causing her daughter to receive unnecessary and dangerous medical treatments, including numerous surgeries for pacemakers, an IV port, and a feeding tube.
The complaint also states that the hospital believes that Newman has a mental health condition known as Munchausen by proxy, in which a person invents illnesses for someone in their care. The syndrome is explored in the Hulu series The Act, which is based on a BuzzFeed News story about Dee Dee Blanchard and her daughter Gypsy.
Over the 10 years of Newman’s daughter’s life, multiple doctors had raised concerns that the mother may have Munchausen by proxy, including the child’s first pediatrician.
When her daughter was just 11 weeks old, Newman told doctors that the baby was intolerant to feeding, vomiting excessively, and losing weight, causing the hospital staffers to surgically place a feeding tube. “While in the hospital, [the child] had no issues with feeding or vomiting,” the complaint states, but doctors put a feeding tube in place “based on the defendant’s reported concerns.”
Newman reported that her daughter at 5 months old had symptoms of a heart condition called bradycardia, and syncope, which the complaint describes as temporary loss of consciousness, typically associated with insufficient blood flow. Two hospitals conducted full workups and found that the child’s heart was functioning normally.
When her daughter was 2 years old, Newman visited Duke Hospital, saying that she had found the child unresponsive two weeks prior and had her admitted for a heart exam, which again came back normal.
Newman told doctors that her daughter had a nervous system dysfunction that manifested as “hypothermia, hyperthermia, bradycardia, tachycardia, and ‘turning purple,’" and the hospital decided to proceed with a surgery to install a pacemaker, despite the normal evaluation, based on “the medical history provided by the defendant, combined with a single report of the primary pediatrician” that the child had a low heart rate.
A 2016 exam of Newman’s daughter at the Children’s Hospital in Wisconsin “showed no need” for a pacemaker, and the doctor “noted that all information suggesting that the pacemaker was still necessary came from the defendant,” according to the complaint.
After the doctor told Newman in 2018 that he could not justify replacing the pacemaker, Newman reportedly took her daughter to the Children’s Hospital of Oklahoma and told doctors there that a replacement pacemaker had been recommended in Wisconsin. The hospital performed the surgery and attached a new pacemaker.
In addition to feeding tubes and pacemakers, the complaint also alleges that Newman arranged for her daughter to have a port installed in her skin to receive treatment for a supposed immunoglobulin deficiency that she was never actually diagnosed with.
According to the report put together at the Children’s Hospital in Wisconsin and cited by the complaint, “the defendant’s pattern of conduct, combined with the defendant’s practice of employing multiple different medical providers in multiple different states (Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Tennessee) has led to [her daughter] being misdiagnosed and undergoing multiple unwarranted medical procedures, many of which posed risk to [her daughter]’s life.”
The charges against Newman carry a possible total of $75,000 in fines and 27 years in jail.