Brandi Everson with her son, Bubby, in the hospital where he has been taken into protective custody. (Photo: Facebook)
A pair of Washington parents who have spent two years documenting the myriad medical ailments of their son Bubby Everson, 9, on Facebook, are now fighting their biggest battle of all: against Child Protective Services, for custody of their boy, who was removed from their home on May 22. In the case, Brandi and Thomas Everson stand accused of “caregiver fabricated illness” — in other words, of making up their son’s many conditions, which they say range from autism to a terminal form of cytomegalovirus (CMV).
“Two police officers knocked on the door,” Brandi told King 5 News of the day Bubby was taken from their home in Graham, right before the long holiday weekend. “Then three social workers came in. They handed me a piece of paper and said we have an order to take your child. I fell to my knees.” The order for removal noted there was a “risk of imminent harm” to Bubby, who is residing at a Tacoma hospital while the investigation proceeds. His parents were allowed a two-hour supervised visit with him on Tuesday and are planning a rally this week.
CPS would not comment on the specifics of the case, citing “confidentiality laws,” but provided Yahoo Parenting with a statement that noted, “A court, not the Department, determines whether a child should be removed from his or her home based on a variety of factors. Courts also determine when, or if, a child is returned to the custody of his or her parents, and what conditions must be met that would result in the return.”
The Eversons chose not to comment at this time. But their Facebook page, Bubby’s Journey, provides a public diary of their son’s medical struggles.
In addition to having a rare and deadly form of CMV, which he contracted at birth, “He has cerebral palsy, ADHD, ODD, OCD, microcephaly (small head), food and oral aversions, digestive issues, seizures, he’s autistic with major sensory issues, and the list goes on,” the page explains. A Change.org petition page to bring Bubby home — which already has more than 3,600 signatures — adds ailments including deafness, brain calcifications, scoliosis, and being immune compromised.
Young Bubby, who uses a wheelchair to get around, has also had several invasive procedures, according to Facebook. “He’s had 2 surgeries for cochlear implants, T&A [tonsils and adenoids] removal, and G-tube surgery,” the page notes. “Bubby is fed blended food in the morning and afternoon, and formula at night with a pump. He has 4 different types of seizures, if not controlled by medications they get very bad and a grand mal could kill him. If he has a busy day, or if he gets too hot, or sick he will have one or ten.”
Thomas Everson visiting his son Bubby in the hospital this week. (Photo: Facebook)
This is not the first time the Eversons have landed in the national spotlight: In February, they launched a “Birthday Cards for Bubby” campaign, because mail cheers their son. He received and continues to receive thousands upon thousands of cards from around the country — including one from President Obama. Now, the family says, they fear those stacks of cards could be being used against them: The Eversons told King 5 News that a CPS investigator first visited their house in response to a missed doctor’s appointment, and that the investigator seemed very concerned about the stacks of mail piled inside their home. Two weeks later, Bubby was taken from their home.
On Tuesday, after meeting with a caseworker, the TV station reported, the Eversons shared a document claiming that Bubby’s feeding tube and wheelchair are unnecessary, that his parents have removed him from school and therapies, and that Brandi has recently “been asking for a Do Not Resuscitate order in spite of the fact that the child does not have a life threatening or terminal illness.“ Further, a doctor from Seattle Children’s stated Bubby’s "mother continues to present misleading, incorrect, and untrue facts, predictions, diagnosis and is actively working on plans related to his impending demise.”
This is not the first such case involving accusations of “caregiver fabricated illness” — known, alternately, as Munchausen syndrome by proxy, medical child abuse, or pediatric condition falsification — to baffle the public. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, caregiver fabricated illness involves a caretaker who “may fabricate or invent a history of illness, exaggerate a real disease, or underreport sings and symptoms… [or] may actually produce the signs and symptoms of illness,” such as through poisoning. The reported incidence is rare, approximately .5 to 2 per 100,000 children. Diagnosis is “especially difficult” in children, particularly since 30 percent of kids with fabricated illness will have an underlying medical illness.
“The best lie is the one that mixes truth and fiction,” Dr. Marc Feldman, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, as well as 20-year expert in Munchausen syndrome and various incarnations of caregiver fabricated illness, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Take a core of authentic problems and add an invented story on top of it.”
Perhaps the most recent case involving a fabricated illness accusation was that involving Connecticut teen Justina Pelletier, who spent 16 months in state custody while her parents battled the courts to bring her home (where she now remains). And currently playing out is the case of 17-year-old Isaiah Rider of Missouri, who has the genetic disorder neurofibromatosis and was recently made a ward of the state. In that case, Feldman testified on behalf of the family.
“I don’t know how common it is for mistakes to be made in these cases, but they do happen, and it can be devastating,” he tells Yahoo Parenting, noting that he’s also testified on behalf of CPS.
In general, says Dr. Feldman, with true fabricated illness situations, “The parents often invariably have severe personality disorders, and use abusive actions to get their needs met.” Motivations, he explains, include parents who have felt “anonymous in daily life” being able to feel “acknowledged and special” by having a sick child. Children in these situations, meanwhile, “tend not to do well,” with some suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and others developing “full-blown Munchausen,” as a way to “master the trauma.”
As for doctors agreeing to do unnecessary interventions, such as a G-tube (very common in these cases, he notes), Dr. Feldman points to “parental insistence,” which can almost always sway a doctor. “It’s easy to mislead a doctor,” he notes. “You just need a compelling story.”