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Mum put son at risk so husband would notice her.

Byline: MADELEINE BRINDLEY Health Editor

A MOTHER faked her five-year-old son's medical tests, forcing him to undergo two unnecessary operations in a bid to get attention from her husband.

The 38-year-old yesterday admitted two counts of child cruelty after the surgeons who operated on her son discovered she had faked his symptoms.

Cardiff Crown Court was told that the woman, who lives in Newport, suffered from Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, the same psychiatric disorder as ``Angel of Death'' nurse Beverley Allitt.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was sentenced to a three-year community rehabilitation order with the condition that she undergo psychiatric treatment in a bid to address her illness.

An expert in the disorder, Patricia Polledri, said last night, ``There was no point putting this woman in prison. She needs help, not a prison sentence.''

The woman added drops of her blood to her son's urine samples when she sought medical treatment for his ``illness''.

After the blood was detected in his urine sample the five-year-old underwent two kidney biopsies in February 2001 and last year.

It was only after the second operation that tests showed the boy's blood type was different from that found in his urine. Police were called in and the mother later admitted faking the samples.

The court was told that she had spiked her son's urine samples because she felt neglected by her husband.

Michael Mather-Lees, for the prosecution, said, ``Through her actions she subjected this young child to completely unnecessary surgical procedures including the use of general anaesthetic.

``This caused him substantial risk and great discomfort.''

Andrew Jones, for the defence, said the woman was suffering from Munchausen's syndrome by proxy. Recorder Paul Lewis, QC, told her, ``You sought medical treatment for your son claiming he had blood in his urine. In fact you had contaminated it with your own blood.

``Because of your actions he underwent two invasive procedures which must have caused him distress and unnecessary suffering.

``At the time you committed these offences you were depressed and were suffering from Munchausen's by proxy. You were seeking attention from medical personnel because of the difficulties you were experiencing in your personal life.'' The judge said it would not be necessary for the woman, who had two psychiatric conditions at the time of the offences, to be detained in hospital but she would have to submit to treatment when required to do so by doctors.

Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, named after the 18th-century storyteller Baron von Munchausen, is regarded as a severe form of child abuse where mothers often fake or induce symptoms in others, usually their own children, in a bid to gain attention. Although much is known about the symptoms of the disorder, little is known about why mothers are compelled to put their own children at potential risk of harm.

Beverley Allitt, Britain's most notorious female hospital killer, who also suffered from the syndrome and was convicted for the murder of four children and injuring nine between 1991 and 1993 at Grantham Hospital in Lincolnshire where she worked as a nurse, is serving 13 life sentences at the top-security Rampton Hospital.

Ms Polledri, the author of Psychopathology, said, ``I accept that this is child abuse but it is also a severe disturbance in maternalism.

``The mother fabricates an illness in her child and presents the child for a medical examination in the emergency room of a hospital.

``Munchausen's syndrome by proxy is a presenting symptom of a more severe underlying psychopathology which hinges on the mother. The mother uses her child in a parasitic fashion as an extension of her own sick and ill-nurtured child self in order to gain the attention and treatment, by proxy, for her own self or in fact the un-nurtured internal child part of herself.''

Psychotherapeutic treatment is considered to be the only form of treatment for the disorder and Ms Polledri said the only hope for changing the mother's behaviour patterns would be by ``expressing painful effect with words rather than abusive actions towards her child's body''.

``Success in therapy will be limited unless the therapist can find a way to facilitate a breakthrough in the mother's lying, deception and denial that she is abusing her child,'' she said.

Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy Revisited: A Study of Maternal
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 8, 2003
Words:718
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