Mom accused of medically abusing toddler in Fort Worth sentenced to community service

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A Tarrant County woman accused of faking her toddler’s medical problems that led to 12 unnecessary medical procedures pleaded guilty to the charge of injury to a child and was sentenced to five years of probation, according to court documents.

Kristi Carroll was charged with three counts of injury to a child in March 2021. She pleaded guilty to one count and the other two charges were dismissed as part of a plea deal in Tarrant County Criminal District Court 1.

According to an arrest warrant for Carroll, from 2017 t0 2018, she lied to doctors and faked her son’s sickness to the point that doctors, under the impression the child was seriously ill, inserted a gastric feeding tube and a central line into the toddler to administer nutrition through his veins. She spun tales to doctors and family members about her son’s illness, posting on Facebook or messaging relatives about high fevers, constant vomiting and blood clots, authorities said. The result was the toddler spent weeks in the hospital undergoing needless, sometimes harmful medical procedures, according to the arrest warrant issued in March 2021 by the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office.

Carroll was sentenced on April 8 to community supervision with deferred adjudication, meaning if she successfully completes the terms of her probation, a conviction won’t appear on her record. According to sentencing documents, she is prohibited from “harmful or injurious contact” with her son, but she still has custody of him. The court also ordered the child’s father has to be present at any medical appointments. Carroll also has to complete 160 hours of community service and pay the court $355.

Carroll’s child was initially removed from her custody after a Department of Family and Protective Services investigation in February 2018. However, the child was returned to Carroll in March 2019 and, according to Tarrant County Detective Michael Weber’s investigation, the state agency had not had contact with Carroll from the time the child was returned to the time his investigation started in October 2019.

In March 2021, at the time of Carroll’s arrest, DFPS declined to release records regarding Carroll’s case. When asked about why a child might be returned to an abusive parent, a DFPS spokeswoman told the Star-Telegram, “With cases where we’ve gone to court and were granted temporary custody, the judge makes the final decision regarding custody of the child, after hearing input from the therapists for the child and family, their attorneys, CASA and DFPS.”

Munchausen syndrome by proxy

According to Carroll’s arrest warrant, when the child was removed from her care, he improved in a way “that had no medical explanation other than the suspect was falsifying the (child’s) illnesses,” a doctor at Cook Children’s Medical Center who treated the child told Detective Weber.

The warrant said her son was born in May 2016. Within a year, a central line was placed in his stomach. It is unclear when the first medical treatments started, but by February 2017, the child had at-home nurses and Carroll told doctors he vomited frequently. Later, surveillance footage showed Carroll create fake vomit on her son’s bed with water before she told nurses he had thrown up, according to court documents.

Doctors at Cook Children’s Medical Center had to treat the child based solely on Carroll’s description of his symptoms. They first surgically inserted a gastric feeding tube into the child’s intestines. Carroll told doctors that the tube was not working. Doctors then put a central line into the then-9-month-old on Feb. 17, 2017, to administer total parenteral nutrition through his bloodstream.

After a DFPS investigation, the child was removed from the mom’s care within a month. He was sent to live with his grandmother and the central line was removed in February 2018. His symptoms improved and he appeared to have no problems eating — although the toddler had to be taught how to eat by mouth since he had not done so for more than a year.

In April 2018, a forensic psychologist was hired by DFPS to evaluate Carroll and conduct a psych evaluation. The report, sections of which are included in the arrest warrant, says Carroll “made a rather unsophisticated attempt to present herself as being better adjusted and to present herself in a very positive manner.”

Carroll admitted to faking her son’s illness in an attempt to get medical staff to do what she wanted for her son, the report said. She said she knew it was wrong, but the investigator was alarmed that she kept faking his illness over and over. Carroll also saw “little that needs to be changed on her part,” the psychologist, who also diagnosed Carroll with a personality disorder, wrote.

A forensic psychologist, hired by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, diagnosed Carroll with Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another, also known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy. In this disorder, a caretaker — usually a parent — fakes another person’s illness to garner attention.

Dr. Marc Feldman, an expert in factitious disorders, reviewed the arrest warrant for Carroll in March 2021 at the request of the Star-Telegram. Based on the warrant’s information, he agreed with the DFPS diagnosis.

“The conclusions seemed inescapable to me that this was a case of medical child abuse,” Feldman, a clinical professor of psychiatry and adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, said at the time. “And a severe one at that.”

Feldman — who is not involved in the case — said he did not think he had ever seen another case that appeared to check every box of medical abuse of a child. Medical experts list 15 warning signs of this form of abuse. Based on the arrest warrant, Feldman said the signs “fit this case to a T.”

In the 2021 interview, Feldman said it is important for a parent to accept the abusive nature of their actions in order for them to change. Returning a child to a possibly abusive parent without evidence of a dramatic change in the parent is not safe, he said.

“Treatment becomes pointless if the mother won’t admit there are things she should have done differently,” Feldman said.