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Medical Abuse or Child Abuse?

When medicine and government collide — children lose every single time.

Often when a child is ill, instead of offering help and much needed assistance to families in crises, the state steps in and compounds an already tragic situation. There is nothing worse than having a sick child — unless child protective services removes that child from your home, places him or her in foster care and charges you with abuse. This exactly what happened to the Otto family.

Read Amy’s story…

My name is Amy Otto. I am a wife and mother of 2 boys, now 4 and 7. Our story is so lengthy and hard to write without all the detail, but I will sum it up the best I can.

When our youngest son was born, we thought we had a healthy baby boy with only minor skin eczema. That soon changed as the weeks progressed. Jake seemed to cry a lot and had problems with nursing. We eventually found from a gastrointestinal doctor that he could not digest protein and had to have special formula.

I was very observant with Jake because we discovered that our older son Jestin, had a cyst in the first layer of his brain when he was just one-year-old. The doctors did not find the cyst, but was noticed instead by my husband. So everything made me cautious.

At almost a year old, I noticed a marking on Jake’s head, which looked like a line that was slightly indented. The Neurologist informed us that it was an amniotic band mark.

Searching for Answers

Then at about 18-months-old, Jake started crying out, his ears grew large, red, and he had green pus on the back of them. The doctor at the emergency room and our pediatrician had no “real” explanation. Then he cried out in pain, pointed to his leg. The ER doctor said it was nothing, but when he kept doing it, we brought him to the pediatrician.

His pediatrician found that he had a common toddler fracture of his tibia. The doctor put his leg in a cast, which my son tried to pull off, so it was removed. The doctor put him in a walker because his leg wasn’t fully healed. Jake wouldn’t wear it but limped and tried not using that leg.

Jake’s hair was receding back, his hands swelled and turned red (5 doctors at the university of Chicago couldn’t explain why) he wasn’t speaking much and his foot was now turning outward. I sought answers over and over and I didn’t find any.

Finally, to my dismay, they thought Jake had Leukemia when he went in for a new bone scan on that same leg. It turned out the fracture had extended down the side of the leg (his left leg).

Doctors Mis-Diagnosis

During that time we thought his left hand looked blue, but the doctors said it was a result of the IV. Over the next week I kept calling the doctors about his hand because he was favoring it now and it looked blue still. Again they all said it was from the IV.

10-days after we brought him home, after being in the hospital, we took him back to the ER because he was still favoring that left arm. He was due to have an evaluation the following week, at a children’s hospital, set up by his pediatrician. We felt it was too long to wait.

At the emergency room Jake was found to have a wrist fracture and arm fracture both on the same side as the leg. DCFS got involved and between them and another hospital Jake was transferred to, they said we were guilty of abuse before even investigating.

This hospital was contracted with DCFS to find abuse and they did everything they could to do just that. I was kicked out of the hospital when DCFS told me there was another fracture in Jake’s right wrist. They said I did it while in his room. When it turned out not to be true, they didn’t even tell me. I found out when I asked about it. DCFS called it abuse and only abuse, even though on the risk assessment all that was checked was “other” with fracture next to it.

Innocent Parents Ordered Supervision

The police investigator, social worker and nurses all believed our innocence. I begged the doctor to do genetic testing, to check for signs of a rare disorder Jake’s grandfather had, she finally gave in. The tests would take 2-months so in the meantime we were to be supervised by my in-law’s, at there house. We were not allowed to take him home.

The DCFS worker was horrible. She told me I pulled my sons hair out. She told me I couldn’t give my child a snack and that I was only allowed to assist or attend with my children. After we followed everything DCFS ordered for 2-months, they came to my in-laws house at 9 p.m. on a Friday and took our kids — because his genetic test came out negative. (The tests are not supposed to be used in an investigation because they are not 100% accurate — this is stated right on the test.)

Children Abused by the State

The worker would not let any relative take the children. They were not even allowed to stay at my in-laws home, even if my husband and I left. The worker said that my in-laws couldn’t keep them because my father-in-law walks with a cane and my mother-in-law was finishing up chemotherapy for breast cancer. My dad, a retired teacher of 30-years, was not allowed to have them because he had 3 homes.

So they took our kids screaming to a foster home. The DCFS worker told my oldest son he could “do this the easy way or the hard way” he was 4-years-old.

The next day the worker called and told me my children were very well-behaved and complimented me on raising them well — even the foster mom heard that and couldn’t believe it.

The foster parents knew something wasn’t right in our case, they could see it. They also saw the things that were happening to Jake first hand and reported it too. Like blood in his stool, excessive thirst, indented toenails, crusting on his scalp, just to name a few.

They became our best advocates and our friends. They had the kids for 2-months and saw how devastated they were every time we dropped them off.

The courts offered us a deal. We were to go through counseling, have drug testing, an anger assessment, a psychological evaluation and have our kids in daycare for 6-months (I am a stay-at-home mom) and allow DCFS to enter our home whenever they wanted – unannounced.

They further stipulated that when the kids were home, my husband and I were not allowed to be alone with them. Either both of us had to be there or we needed a supervisor in the home with us. The foster mother then became our daycare provider and we paid her $250 a week out of our own pocket.

Symptoms Continue

Jake continued to have odd things happen. He had an esophageal yeast infection, he was speech delayed, with signs of excessive thirst, his hands would swell and he saw many doctors that couldn’t explain anything he was going through.

Right before the 6-month time period was to expire, Jake had a fever of 105.7 and was hospitalized. He had an infection that he was having trouble fighting; DCFS wanted the hospital to do a full skeletal survey after we informed them that he was there. Finally, Jake went to the mayo clinic for evaluation and the juvenile court dropped the case. But DCFS continued to keep us indicated for neglect — for both kids (apparently we neglected our older one by spending time neglecting and abusing our younger one).

We eventually appealed, with an 8-day court hearing in which the Mayo clinic and U of C doctors testified in our behalf (both were part of an abuse specialty team). But DCFS changed our indication to abuse (just to comply with the doctor that was against us) and during the hearing the DCFS lawyer made a hotline call on us because we had found Jake had a finger fracture on the left hand that was dated to the time he was in protective custody. We thought it would exonerate us, but instead they opened up a new case.

The judge favored the DCFS worker, (she has never not sided with them in a case) so we are appealing again. In the new DCFS case that was opened they made us go through the whole process again, including the kids having bone scans. We are now appealing our case again to the tune of $50,000 in legal fees.

Jake is still at Mayo and they found he is iron deficient, and has hypoventilation (his lungs are 61% filled with carbon dioxide) there is an issue with his brain telling him to breathe. He also has restless leg syndrome and is hyper-extendible (his skin is stretchy and his joints come out of place and bend further than they should) he has respiratory problems and has nosebleeds often.

He is currently being tested for a disease he has many symptoms of called Gaucher Syndrome. It is a genetic disorder.

I now work at a new organization called the Family defense center that helps protect the rights of parents and gives them resources when involved with the child welfare system. I will never stop fighting to help others who find themselves in a similar situation as ours. It tears your life apart and is traumatic on everyone, especially the children.

Amy Otto

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