A Crowley mom accused of faking her baby’s illness and causing him to be hospitalized for nearly 100 days pleaded guilty to injury to a child Thursday in a Tarrant County court.
Kaleigh Flanagan, 27, accepted a plea deal Thursday in 213th District Court in which she signed away all parental rights to her three children, including the son she is accused of abusing through Munchausen syndrome by proxy — a mental health disorder in which a caretaker fakes another person’s illness. In addition to relinquishing her parental rights, Flanagan is required to inform the Texas Department of Family Protective Services if she becomes pregnant, according to court documents, and was sentenced to community supervision for 10 years.
Flanagan lied to hospital staff at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth about her son’s health, according to an arrest warrant affidavit written by Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office Detective Michael Weber. The mother of three insisted her son was throwing up and having seizures, but was caught on video faking these events, according to the affidavit.
The baby had a nasal-gastric tube inserted into his esophagus because of Flanagan’s false reports, the affidavit says. She was charged with bodily injury to a child on March 8, 2021.
Weber began investigating medical child abuse allegations against Flanagan on Feb. 2 last year.
Doctors and staff started to doubt whether Flanagan’s child suffered seizures, as she claimed, or needed the nasal-gastric tube, according to the arrest warrant. A follow-up MRI and EEG of the child were normal, medical staff never saw the baby have a seizure and at least one nurse fed the baby without an issue.
The baby was born on March 6, 2020, and, at a nearly a year old, had spent a total of 98 days at Cook Children’s Medical Center.
In February 2021, medical staff moved Flanagan and her then-11-month-old into a hospital room that had a hidden camera. On Feb. 1, Flanagan told nurses her son had thrown up on her, but video revealed she had actually splashed herself with water, the affidavit says. A doctor reported her to DFPS, which began investigating.
Over the next three days, Flanagan faked vomiting episodes four more times, the affidavit says. Each time, she splashed or dabbed herself with water and told staff her son threw up. Video footage never shows her son actually throwing up.
During an interview with detective Weber, Flanagan first said she, her son and her 7-year-old twin daughters have a myriad of health issues, according to the affidavit. She said one of the twins had skin cancer removed from her leg and had her adenoids and tonsils removed.
At first Flanagan denied faking her son’s symptoms, the affidavit says, but when Weber told her about the video footage, she told him she had lied about her son vomiting.
At one point, she told Weber, “I feel like I’ve completely failed my children,” and “I know I messed up and I want to make it right,” the affidavit says.
The child was taken off seizure medication on Feb. 5, removed from Flanagan’s care and placed with a foster parent.
Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another
In Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another, also known as Munchausen by proxy syndrome, a caretaker — usually a mother — fakes another person’s illness. While the general public may think these cases as rare, data suggests they are more common than many realize, said Dr. Marc Feldman, an expert in factitious disorders and clinical professor of psychiatry and adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, in a previous interview.
In Tarrant County, eight women — including Flanagan — have been charged since March 2019 in connection to suspected Munchausen by proxy cases.
Munchausen by proxy syndrome can also be difficult for medical staff and authorities to catch if they are not trained to recognize the signs, Feldman said.
Due to the lack of understanding surrounding these cases — and a lack of criminal statutes — prosecution of a perpetrator can be difficult. Court decisions in these cases can be “unreasonably lax,” Feldman said.