A doctor falsely accused a partially paralysed child of “faking her symptoms” for attention.
The anonymous practitioner told Bailey Sheenan’s parents that their daughter was just jealous of her baby sister, but an MRI proved the seven-year-old’s illness was real.
The scan showed that Bailey was suffering from acute flaccid myelitus, also known as AFM. Similar to polio, the disease affects the nervous system and spinal cord, causing muscle weakness and affecting reflexes.
Although rare, the condition has affected hundreds of children since 2014, when monitoring of AFM first began.
Due to the condition’s rarity, it is common for children to be accused of faking their illness, but fortunately for Bailey, her mother Mikell wasn’t willing to accept the first doctor’s diagnosis.
After waking up on 28th October 2014 with no feeling in her neck, right shoulder and leg, Bailey was taken to a children’s rehabilitation centre. However, the medic seemed convinced the symptoms were caused by jealously of over her sister, who was born a few months earlier.
“I said, ‘You’ve been with my child for 15 minutes, and you think it’s psychological? Get out of my face,’ she recollected.
His response was to question her mental health: “He said, you know, ‘moms with new babies don’t get enough sleep.'”
Luckily, Bailey’s usual pediatrician believed her, and pushed for an MRI scan.
Erin Olivera, the mother of a child who also suffered through AFM, says one-in-ten children are accused of faking the condition when they first seek medical care for symptoms.
Dr Allen Frances, the former chair of psychiatry at the Duke University School of Medicine, said Bailey’s experience points to a wider issue in the medical field.
He told Fox 5: “Mental disorders become the default position to deal with medical uncertainty.
“It’s widespread, and it’s dangerous.”
Thankfully, once the correct diagnosis was received, Bailey received treatment and is now walking again. However, Mikell is still concerned for other kids who may be misdiagnosed.
“We were lucky that her pediatrician was such an advocate for us, but I don’t know if everyone’s that lucky,” she said.