A woman in Indiana has been accused of an unthinkable crime. The mother of a 15-year-old boy, under treatment for leukemia, is accused of injecting feces into the boy’s IV line. Hospital staff believe that the resulting illnesses caused the boy to miss the best window of opportunity to treat his leukemia.
The woman, 41-year-old teacher Tiffany Alberts, has been on leave from the local school district since her husband died in May. She has been charged with seven felonies and was issued a no-contact order.
According to court documents and a confession to police, the woman purposefully made her son’s condition worse. Riley Hospital for Children, where the boy was being treated, launched a child abuse investigation on November 17 after he became violently ill for no apparent reason. Hospital staff told police that the boy completed his first round of leukemia treatment in September and went home, but returned a few days later with a high fever, vomiting, and severe diarrhea. Blood work revealed an infection that could not be explained by the symptoms and treatment for his leukemia.
Media reports detail the results of police questioning:
She allegedly first told investigators she injected water into her son’s IV to “flush the line” because the “medicine that was given to him burned,” the documents said.
But the woman allegedly later confessed, telling investigators she injected the boy’s IV with fecal matter several times since Nov. 13. She claimed she only did it to get her son moved to another unit at Riley, where she said treatment was better, the station reports.
Alberts was arrested and a judge issued a no-contact order, the station reports. The boy’s health has since improved, but he was hospitalized for months, underwent several surgeries and doctors worry they may have missed their best window to treat his leukemia. They say the boy would have died had he undergone cancer treatment while he still had the blood infection.
Local TV Station WTTV reported that the boy took a significant turn for the worse, causing the hospital to set up surveillance:
Records show the teen had high fevers and was vomiting almost every day.
Hospital staff grew suspicious because the boy was getting sicker, so he was moved to a room with surveillance cameras.
The cameras showed Alberts injecting her son’s IV with a substance from a syringe. Hospital staff tested the teen’s blood, which showed positive results for organisms normally found in stool.
Alberts claimed she did it so her son would get better treatment.
The hospital staff says the teen was so sick from the fecal injections that he was placed on a ventilator, had several surgeries and likely missed his chance to recover from leukemia.
At the risk of engaging in speculation, this horrible act brings to mind the psychological condition known as Munchausen by proxy, colloquially referred to as medical child abuse. The condition is defined as:
Munchausen by proxy syndrome (MBPS) is a relatively rare form of child abuse that involves the exaggeration or fabrication of illnesses or symptoms by a primary caretaker.
Also known as “medical child abuse,” MBPS was named after Baron von Munchausen, an 18th-century German dignitary known for making up stories about his travels and experiences in order to get attention. “By proxy” indicates that a parent or other adult is making up or exaggerating symptoms in a child, not in himself or herself.
Munchausen by proxy syndrome is a mental illness and requires treatment.
In MBPS, an individual — usually a parent or caregiver— causes or fabricates symptoms in a child. The adult deliberately misleads others (particularly medical professionals), and may go as far as to actually cause symptoms in the child through poisoning, medication, or even suffocation. In most cases (85%), the mother is responsible for causing the illness or symptoms.
Usually, the cause of MBPS is a need for attention and sympathy from doctors, nurses, and other professionals. Some experts believe that it isn’t just the attention that’s gained from the “illness” of the child that drives this behavior, but also the satisfaction in deceiving individuals whom they consider to be more important and powerful than themselves.
Whatever the psychological condition of the mother, it’s an unspeakable tragedy in a family that has endured more than its share of tragedies. Here’s hoping the kid can defy the odds and overcome these incomprehensible setbacks.