An Arkansas woman and her husband have been accused of a rare psychiatric disorder behind the life-threatening abuse and neglect they inflicted on their adopted son, according to public court documents.
Kristy and Erik Schneider were accused of Munchausen by proxy, or factitious disorder, the court documents show. The syndrome relates to when a child’s caretaker, “most often a mother, either makes up fake symptoms or causes real symptoms to make it look like the child is sick,” according to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Examples include adding blood to a child’s urine, withholding food, warming thermometers, falsifying lab results and administering drugs or an IV line to cause illness in the child, Mount Sinai states on its webpage.
According to court records, the couple informed their community that their son, Louie, who they had adopted in 2014, was terminally ill, prompting many donations and charitable contributions.
“In reality, Defendants grossly exaggerated and misrepresented L.S.’s [the child’s] health condition to both medical providers and the general public, which directly caused an outpouring of love, prayers, and monetary support. Together, Defendants orchestrated a profitable scheme that deceived others at the expense of their son and the public,” court documents read.
In February 2019, Kristy Schneider created online posts on CaringBridge.org over her son’s journey, characterizing the child’s illness as a “rare chromosomal abnormality that led to him being globally developmentally delayed.”
Court records describe Kristy Schneider’s claims that Louie experienced seizures, deteriorating motor skills and was fed through a J-tube, which is surgically placed directly into the small intestine to help with nutrition. This apparently prompted visits to numerous specialists. The family went to Cincinnati Children’s for GI testing before the child was transferred to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for intensive care.
Kristy Schneider also claimed, “After seeing multiple specialists, trying everything possible, and consulting with doctors in multiple other states/facilities, it was determined that the recommended course of action was to come home on hospice care,” court records read.
Law enforcement officers lined the road as the child entered hospice care, though his condition quickly improved. Doctors noted Kristy Schneider described the child as having “severe pain” “not observed in the clinic,” and her requests for a hospice referral were rejected on the basis they were unnecessary.
A hotline report in July 2019 to the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) claimed Kristy was intentionally causing her children to get sick. Another hotline report in September informed DHS that Kristy’s exaggeration of her son’s illness resulted in unnecessary medical care, and the child was taken from the couple’s custody that day.
DHS soon filed for a petition of dependency-neglect, claiming the child was at risk of “serious harm as a result of abuse, neglect and parental unfitness.”
Doctors testified the child was a victim of Munchausen by proxy, which was upheld in the court. Further, an Arkansas-based nonprofit donated some $1,600 in gifts and meals, and $1,500 in cash in 2019, with the couple’s neighbors raising over $10,000 through international PayPal donations, over $8,500 of which was transferred to Kristy to allegedly cover the child’s medical expenses. Court documents estimate the couple garnered about $31,800 worth of gifts, meals, cash and transportation.
The couple was slammed with restitution and Kristy Schneider was reportedly charged Tuesday with first-degree child endangerment, a Class D felony, according to ABC local station KATV.
The Cleveland Clinic notes those with the syndrome seek “attention and sympathy” through their lies and exaggerations, adding, “diagnosing and treating Munchausen syndrome is difficult because of the person’s dishonesty.”
The Clinic adds that the syndrome is coined “after Baron von Munchausen, an 18th century German officer who was known for embellishing the stories of his life and experiences.”
There are no reliable statistics regarding the number of people in the U.S. who suffer from Factitious disorder imposed on another (FDIA) because “many cases go undetected,” the Clinic’s webpage states. Though it’s estimated that about 1,000 of the 2.5 million cases of child abuse reported annually are related to FDIA.
Women in the healthcare industry are said to be most likely to have the syndrome, albeit rare, and Mount Sinai notes that medical expertise proves useful when it comes to forging symptoms.
Fox News’ Nicole Pelletiere contributed to this report.