A Tarrant County woman is accused of faking her toddler’s medical problems that led to 12 medical procedures and innumerable hospital visits over the course of at least a year.
Kristi Carroll, 30, was charged with injury to a child Tuesday. From at least 2017 to 2018, she spun tales to doctors and family members about her son’s illness, posting on Facebook or messaging family members about high fevers, constant vomiting and blood clots, authorities said. Doctors, under the impression that the child was seriously ill, inserted a gastric feeding tube and, later, a central line into the toddler.
According to Carroll’s arrest warrant from the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office, she faked or exaggerated her son’s sickness. Video shows her creating fake vomit on her son’s bed, the warrant says. 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 Tarrant County Detective Michael Weber.
An investigator with 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 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. “And a severe one at that.”
Feldman — who is not involved in the case — said he did not think he had ever seen a 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.”
When reached by the Star-Telegram on Wednesday, Carroll declined to comment.
In February 2018, the child was removed from Carroll’s custody after a DFPS investigation. However, the child was returned to Carroll in March 2019 and, according to Tarrant County Detective Weber’s investigation, the state agency has not had contact with Carroll since the child was returned.
When the arrest warrant was filed Monday evening, authorities did not know where the child was, if he was still receiving medical treatment or if Carroll was continuing to fake her son’s illness, according to the warrant. Carroll was arrested and booked into the Tarrant County Jail on Tuesday and released Wednesday, according to public records.
ER visits, medical procedures
The following timeline of events was laid out in Weber’s arrest warrant for Carroll.
The child was born on May 4, 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.
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. Believing the tube was not working, doctors put a central line into the then-9-month-old on Feb. 17, 2017.
An in-home care nurse who worked with the child later said she, nor any of the other nurses who cared for him, had actually seen him vomit. Months later, when doctors started to suspect Carroll was lying about her son’s illness, video footage showed her falsifying vomit — she would pour liquid on the boy’s bed and report to nurses he had thrown up.
On Sept. 13, 2017, Carroll posted on Facebook that she took her son to the hospital for an MRI and hearing test. She wrote that he was sleeping peacefully after the tests when he stopped breathing and medical staff had to give him oxygen to revive him.
Medical records show this incident — known as an “apnea event” — did not happen, according to the warrant. The medical tests came back normal.
In October, Carroll messaged her sister and said, her son had “4 freaking blood clots.” A doctor told Weber that the child underwent an exam that same day and doctors found no evidence of clots.
Through November, Carroll started to take her son into the emergency room often, saying he had a high fever. In Facebook posts and messages, she said her son had a temperature as high as 104.3. She posted that her son had lost 6 pounds in two weeks and said he had diarrhea six to seven times a day. Medical records show his temperature was normal during these ER visits, he lost one pound during this time period and there was no evidence of recurring diarrhea, the warrant says.
Doctors replaced the child’s central line in October and November.
Due to the constant ER visits and the lack of apparent sickness, one doctor treating the child started to suspect something was not right. In December, when he told Carroll that the child might need an intestinal transplant if he did not get better, she “was not disturbed by this news and was quite eager to tell people the (child) was listed for an intestinal transplant,” according to the warrant.
Doctors moved Carroll and her son into a hospital room with a discrete camera to monitor her. Over the course of two days in January 2018, she told medical staff her son threw up nine times. A doctor reviewed the video footage and saw Carroll pouring a liquid onto disposable bed pads before reporting her son threw up. The doctor said the child was “in imminent danger if not removed from the care of mom.”
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 February 2019, a Tarrant County judge signed an order returning the child to Carroll. The order was agreed upon by CPS and all attorneys involved.
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.”
The case was closed with no long-term follow-up, according to the arrest warrant. Detective Weber wrote that he checked with DFPS personnel, and there was no record of contact between DFPS and Carroll since March 2019.
In April 2018, a DFPS investigator did a psych evaluation of Carroll. 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 investigator wrote.
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.
Feldman said the arrest warrant for Carroll showed numerous red flags of medical abuse, including: recurrent illnesses for which a cause cannot be found, persistent failure of a child to respond to medical therapy without clear cause, and chronic vomiting without definitive diagnosis. While the public may view these cases as rare, medical abuse is relatively common and often goes unrecognized, he said.
“It’s unusual for me to see all or almost all the indicators present in a case,” he said. “They were in this case, based on what I’m reading in the warrant. If all of those claims are valid, I would think any expert would be eager to dig their teeth into this one and do all they can to protect the child.”
Feldman noted that there were still unknowns in the case and he did not want to second-guess the custody decision without more information. There is the possibility that Carroll underwent therapy and was found to not be a danger to her child, he said.