Reunite Mother and Son Separated by Ministry’s Lyme Bias
Reunite Mother and Son Separated by Ministry’s Lyme Bias
Ten weeks ago, Canadian social services seized my sister’s 11-year-old son because she sought treatment for their Lyme Disease from a licensed doctor.
Before her illness, my sister Christine was a driven, Yale-educated MD and health consultant, author, and avid outdoor enthusiast who spent every spring and summer afternoon on her mountain bike pulling her infant son and dog in a trailer through overgrown forest trails. But when my nephew was nine months old, both he and my sister suffered a strange series of relapsing summer flus with high fevers, vomiting, and joint pain. The pattern repeated a number of times and then appeared to resolve. But over the coming weeks and months, a host of seemingly unrelated symptoms began to emerge.
In a span of just over a year, my sister lost thirty pounds and was transformed from a fit, healthy athlete to a skeletal invalid who suffered unremitting headaches, joint pain, nausea, and dizziness and who struggled just to get out of bed each morning. Meanwhile, my nephew erupted in rashes-- large rings, coin-sized bullseyes, and lines of little dots like beads on a string appeared all over his body. By the time he was two, he’d developed a dry cough that kept him awake every night. By two and a half, he forgot how to count to ten-- something he’d been doing effortlessly for months. Then, just before his third birthday, my formerly energetic and cheerful nephew became unexplainably exhausted and inconsolable. Silly things like dropping his hat made him burst into tears and nothing comforted him. All he wanted to do was climb into my sister’s lap, suck his thumb, and go to sleep. A few days later, he began repeatedly punching himself in the head-- hard enough to leave bruises-- for no apparent reason.
In a desperate search for answers, Christine and my nephew attended over a dozen specialists throughout Atlantic Canada to no avail. My brothers and I, who’d spent all our lives living in the northeastern US and were well-acquainted with the ravages of Lyme Disease, urged our sister to get herself and her son tested. But Christine’s Canadian GP scoffed at the idea and told her there was “no Lyme Disease in New Brunswick”. He accused my sister of being “overly anxious” and recommended stress reduction. It took a lot to convince her to let us bring her back to the US where physicians who routinely treated Lyme Disease wouldn’t dismiss her concerns out of hand.
Finally, in 2012, Christine and her son began attending Dr. Maureen McShane of Plattsburgh, New York. Dr. McShane, a highly regarded Canadian physician who moved her practice just south of the border into the US so that she could safely treat Lyme Disease without risking her medical license, has diagnosed and treated thousands of Canadian Lyme sufferers who were denied access to effective treatment in Canada. Dr. McShane diagnosed my sister and her son with Lyme Disease and co-infections and began managing their illnesses with antibiotics. Christine credits Dr. McShane with saving their lives-- but it was already too late for a cure.
Like many whose Lyme diagnoses were delayed for months or years, Christine and her son continued to suffer chronic health problems despite repeated courses of antibiotics. When my sister’s PICC-line malfunctioned in 2014, she was unable to continue her IV antibiotic therapy and her health collapsed. Since that time, she’s been too disabled to return to work and has focused all of her energy on raising her son and keeping him as healthy as possible.
Whenever his doctors discontinued my nephew’s antibiotics, he would develop alarming neurological symptoms. As he got older, his off-medication behaviour became increasingly impulsive, explosive, and at times very bizarre. His teachers would report deteriorating school performance and erratic moods and, as the weeks without medication turned into months without medication, he would eventually begin to complain of knee pain, numbness in his legs, headaches, and insomnia. Within days of resuming antibiotics, all of my nephew’s symptoms would resolve.
Fast forward to ten weeks ago when British Columbia’s Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) seized my 11-year-old nephew because a paediatrician-- who’d spoken to my sister briefly about her son’s medical history-- reported to MCFD social workers that Lyme Disease was "very rare” and there was “no scientific or medical evidence" that my nephew suffered from Lyme Disease. She also indicated to MCFD that my sister was administering medication to her son without a prescription. The paediatrician arrived at these misguided conclusions (which MCFD immediately embraced as irrefutable facts) without ever reviewing or even requesting my nephew’s medical records from either Dr. McShane or his current Lyme specialist, records which contain positive Lyme serology from two years ago and which prove that my sister never gave her son any medication without a doctor’s express direction and a valid prescription.
At the time of his “removal”, my nephew was two months into a medication break and was not doing well to begin with. He was confused, overwhelmed, and distraught that MCFD would take him away from his mom and, not surprisingly, he ran away from a foster placement and tried to make his way home. When police and social workers apprehended him, he fought them. They took him to the hospital and the same paediatrician who compelled his removal put my nephew on three psychotropic medications-- including a powerful antipsychotic-- to “manage his aggression.” When he again tried to run away and come home to his mom, this same paediatrician added even more drugs to the cocktail. After that, my nephew was too subdued to fight back.
Since being sent to foster care, my nephew has neither been assessed by a qualified psychiatrist, nor has he had a single follow-up appointment with any doctor whatsoever. Nevertheless, he is still forced to take the same whopping combination of mind-numbing medications every day.
Before my nephew was taken away from his mom, he was an active and athletic boy who skied, played hockey, mountain biked, raced BMXs, and spent hours every day after school at the skate park. Immediately following his abduction by MCFD, my nephew gained thirty pounds as he was rotated through six different foster facilities in six weeks. He was not allowed to finish his hockey season, go skiing, or see his best friends-- three brothers whose family repeatedly requested permission to get the boys together long before Covid-19 made it inadvisable. He was barred from continuing 7th grade on-line and was, instead, provided with an X-Box and a collection of violent, NC-17 video games.
The court-ordered visits my sister was supposed to have with her son consisted of a single, hour-long, supervised encounter during which she and her son just hugged each other and cried. The next day, MCFD moved my nephew to a different time zone-- to a group facility more than 300 kms away where Christine was unable to visit him. She hasn’t seen him since, nor is she likely to see him any time in the near future because MCFD has now placed a moratorium on parent visits for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic.
My sister is of course contesting the Ministry’s indefeasible actions, but the court processes regarding child removal, which ordinarily take at least six months in British Columbia, have now been delayed indefinitely by Covid-19. In the interim, Christine has asked that my nephew be placed with extended family in New England-- aunts and uncles who love him and who have the means and desire to provide him with a proper assessment by a top-tier, paediatric neuropsychiatrist experienced in treating kids with Lyme Disease. In response, MCFD has offered to explore this possibility only if my sister permanently relinquishes custody of her son without a fight!
There is no capturing the totality of the devastation visited on this small, vulnerable family by MCFD’s callous failure to perform its due diligence. While my sister has been through some terrible ordeals since her battle with Lyme Disease began more than a decade ago, nothing compares to what she is now enduring at the hands of heedless bureaucrats operating in contravention to all that is just, humane, and in the best interests of the child.
Please sign our petition and share widely. Join us in telling the British Columbia Minister of Children and Family Development to reunite Christine and her son.