The Faces of Munchausen by Proxy

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When we originally heard the Dee Dee and Gypsy Blancharde story, most of us were shocked to hear what great lengths someone would go to in order to defraud charities and to garner attention from the medical community. From an early age, Gypsy Blancharde was forced to undergo unnecessary operations and to take unnecessary medications in order to treat diseases made up by her own mother. After enduring this torture at the hands of Dee Dee for nearly two decades, Gypsy finally snapped and did the unthinkable in hopes of gaining some sort of freedom.

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It would seem that cases like the Dee Dee and Gypsy Blancharde story are rare. According to Healthline, out of 2.5 million reported cases of child abuse, 1,000 of those cases will involve Munchausen by proxy. It would seem even rarer for a child to be the victim of a parent with Munchausen by proxy without medical staff reporting their findings to social services.

This was the case with 28-year-old Katelyn Christina Carnline, the latest mom to be accused of having Munchausen by proxy.

KWTX reports that in March of 2017, Carnline was arrested after telling friends and family that one of her children had cancer. Carnline attempted to set up a crowdfunding campaign on behalf of the child. She was charged with “exploitation of a child” after it was discovered that the child did not have cancer. She was able to post the $8,000 bond.

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It was during this investigation that authorities learned that social services had received reports about Carnline’s infant daughter. It was soon learned that Carnline had been neglecting and underfeeding the infant. She had also attempted to set up a crowdfunding campaign on behalf of her infant daughter, claiming that the girl had been suffering from IEM – a rare genetic disorder in which some people lack the enzymes necessary to metabolize certain foods.

The infant, who was born on October 13, 2016, had been taken for repeated trips to the Dell Children’s Medical Center, where doctors implanted a G-tube based on Carnline’s claims that the child could not take formula on her own. She also claimed that the infant had been suffering from sleep apnea and had reoccurring seizures.

Since the infant has been placed with other family members in March shortly after Carnline’s initial arrest, it’s been reported that the child is thriving. She is able to eat on her own without the use of the G-tube and has gained 15 pounds. The child’s father has also stated that he has failed to see any evidence of seizers or apneic episodes.

In spite of what horrors those children may have endured in their short lives at the hands of their own mother, this is a case of the system working precisely as it is designed to. Doctors immediately became suspicious of Carnline and reported her to social services, which were able to step in and remove the children from that environment. Some cases don’t have such a happy ending.

To outsiders, Lacey Spears portrayed herself as a single mom who was making the best out of a rough situation. Spears claimed that her son Garnett’s father had died in a car accident and to make matters worse, Spears’ son Garnett had chronic medical problems. Before the age of 1, he had been checked into the hospital 23 times for various illnesses that doctors seemed to have no explanation for.

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By the age of 5, Garnett had been equipped with a feeding tube. As her child lay dying in the hospital, Lacey documented every moment. But the courts have since determined that there was no medical reason for Garnett’s death.

It was soon discovered that Spears had been placing lethal doses of table salt into Garnett’s feeding tube. At the time of his death, the equivalent of 69 McDonald’s salt packets was found in the child’s system. Spears has since been sentenced to 20 years to life for the death of her son.

Medicinenet claims that Munchausen by proxy is often difficult to detect since diagnosis requires an extensive interview process of the network of people involved in the perpetrator’s and the victim’s lives. Parents like Dee Dee Blancharde who are able to go undetected for long periods of time are able to do so by frequently changing doctors and even changing locations.

Munchausen by proxy can take years to detect, and in the case of Lacey Spears’ son Garnett, it often goes completely undetected until it’s too late. Surveillance footage in Garnett’s hospital room was initially enough evidence to obtain a search warrant and investigators were able to obtain feeding bags full of salt water at her home. Aside from extensive interviews, surveillance footage can be an invaluable tool for medical professionals to determine if a parent may be suffering from Munchausen by proxy.

Catching these cases in their early phases, as in Katelyn Christina Carnline’s case, is rare. However, in the wake of tragedies committed by women like Dee Dee Blancharde and Lacey Spears, medical professionals are gaining new tools every day in order to catch these perpetrators in action.