Mommy’s Little Secret: The Hope Ybarra Story
Even before the birth of their son, Ryan Crawford suspected that something was wrong with the boy’s mother.
A pregnant Kaylene Bowen would call Crawford in the middle of the night from random hospitals, reporting that she had been admitted for various reasons. Once, she claimed she’d had a fever of 110 degrees for seven consecutive days, Crawford said.
Crawford began to wonder if this woman he’d dated briefly and unexpectedly impregnated, was just trying to gain attention.
But it was nothing compared to the tales that Crawford says Bowen would tell after the premature birth of their son, Christopher, who was born after 33 weeks in April 2009.
“She was always saying Christopher was sick. Every single week. Every single month,” Crawford said. “She would always say, ‘Something’s wrong. He has this. He has that.’ ”
Between 2009 and 2016, medical records show Christopher was seen 323 times at hospitals and pediatric centers in Dallas and Houston and underwent 13 major surgeries, according to a Child Protective Services petition.
Throughout his young life, Christopher has been placed full time on oxygen and, at times, used a wheelchair. He’s endured invasive procedures and surgeries, including being fitted with a feeding tube that fed directly into his small intestine and led to multiple life-threatening blood infections.
His mother had even tried to get him on the lung transplant list and had previously had him in hospice care, court documents state.
For years, Crawford said he tried to convince Dallas County family court judges that his son was not sick but they believed Bowen, who would eventually claim that their son was dying, initially from a rare genetic disorder and later from cancer.
Crawford said a Dallas County judge even blocked him in late 2012 from visiting his son, who was then 3.
“It was always the same story: Christopher is dying. The father doesn’t need to be around because he doesn’t know to take care of him,” a tearful Bowen would tell the judges, according to Crawford.
“... Every time I went to court, they made me feel like I was the worst human ever.”
In the end, it would take Dallas hospital staff sounding the alarm with CPS — the second such report made by medical providers since 2015 — that prompted the removal of Christopher, now 8, and two of his half-siblings from Bowen’s care late last month.
Medical staff determined that Christopher does not have cancer or many of the symptoms that Bowen had alleged, and that he has no need for a lung transplant or hospice care.
Wednesday, Bowen, who now goes by the name Kaylene Bowen-Wright, was arrested on a warrant accusing her of injury to a child with serious bodily injury.
The 34-year-old woman is in Dallas County Jail in lieu of $150,000 bond. Her court-appointed attorney did not return a message seeking comment Friday but Bowen denied the allegations last month to CPS investigators.
Crawford said he is grateful that Bowen stands accused of wrongdoing, but remains frustrated that it took so long.
“It’s horrible for my son, or any kid because obviously my son is not the only one that has had to go through this type of torture,” Crawford said. “The system has to be exposed — all the weaknesses that are in the system — because the kids don’t deserve that.”
The allegations against Bowen fit the model for what is known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a disorder in which a person exaggerates or creates medical symptoms to gain attention.
Family court battle
Convincing family court judges that a mother may be medically abusing her child is often a challenge, experts say.
Even in 2017, such medical child abuse is still relatively unknown when compared to other types of maltreatment and “so many court judges are inexperienced in this realm,” said Dr. Marc Feldman, an Alabama psychiatrist who is a national expert and author on Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
“I encounter tone-deaf family court judges a lot,” Feldman said. “They, like most members of the public, can’t let themselves believe that an apparently-loving mother could engage in medical child abuse.
“They are used to seeing gross evidence of physical or sexual abuse — bleeding, bruising, broken bones — and don’t seem to respond to the more subtle indications of medical child abuse.”
Feldman said such judges also tend to treat doctors as “gods who are incapable of error, not realizing that these abusive mothers doctor-shop until they find someone who will acquiesce to their demands.”
Crawford said he recognizes he made mistakes during his fight in the family courts.
Several times, he represented himself — something he now regrets. He said while Bowen seemed to draw on the judge’s sympathy with her claims and tears, he only angered them with his insistence that Bowen was lying.
“I’m not a criminal. I’ve never been before a judge for anything. Of course, I’d seen “Judge Judy” but I thought Judge Judy was fake,” Crawford said. “To see real life Judge Judys, that was something new to me. I’m like, they’re allowed to talk to me like this?”
Though he had court-ordered visitation initially, Crawford said Bowen would frequently cancel at the last minute, claiming Christopher was too sick. She’d tell judges that Crawford didn’t know how to properly care for their seriously ill son, further delaying his visits until he could take court-ordered classes in things like CPR and G-tube care.
Until recently, Crawford’s last visit with his son had been Dec. 7, 2012, when he took the boy’s great-grandmother to Kaylene’s Dallas apartment to see Christopher.
“We went to court two weeks later and Kaylene told the judge that Christopher went into cardiac arrest due to my visit,” Crawford said.
He says at a subsequent hearing, 255th District Family Court Judge Lori Hockett said she was taking away Crawford’s visitations with his son since he refused to believe the boy was dying.
“She asked Kaylene, ‘Would you mind if his father sees him one more time before he passes away?’ but Kaylene said no,” Crawford said.
Still fighting for his child
Crawford said he became depressed in 2013 and while he still paid his $600 a month in child support, he did not fight to see his son. In January 2014, he hired a new attorney and filed for custody of Christopher.
When they went before Judge Hockett, Bowen cried and claimed Christopher, then 4, was in a coma.
“Lori Hockett immediately stated she’d heard this case and she can’t believe we would drag Kaylene back to court when the child is dying,” Crawford recalled. “She wouldn’t hear the new evidence that included doctor reports that Christopher was not ill.”
Crawford said the effort to regain custody cost him $7,000.
Hockett is no longer a judge and works in family law mediation. In an email, she declined Friday to comment regarding Crawford’s allegations.
“Of course I would like to respond but don’t feel that I should as the judge who heard the case in 2014 along with my associate judge,” she wrote. “We both ruled on the evidence that was presented to us at the time.”
More than three years later and even after Bowen’s arrest, Crawford is still fighting — this time trying to get Christopher out of foster care and home with him.
He said CPS has expressed reservations about moving the boy out of foster care because Christopher doesn’t know his father very well. Never mind, Crawford points out, that Christopher doesn’t know his foster family well either.
“That’s taxpayer money. Why spend all that extra money when he has a father that has been there from day one, that’s been fighting for this?” Crawford said.
For now, he gets supervised visits with his son once a week. During their first meeting, on Nov. 28, CPS introduced Crawford to Christopher as his “real father.”
“I told him how much I loved him,” Crawford said. “I told him I’d been praying to God for eight years for this moment.”
Christopher’s 6-year-old half-brother also remains in foster care. His 13-year-old half-sister has been placed with her biological father, CPS officials confirm.
Other missed opportunities
Crawford said he had notified Child Protective Services about his concerns with Bowen in late 2010 or early 2011, and again in 2012. He said he believed investigators looked into it but ultimately did nothing and closed the case.
But the CPS petition to remove Christopher and his half-siblings only mentions a previous 2015 CPS report made by doctors.
Marissa Gonzales, a CPS spokesman, said she could find no records of earlier investigations or reports, though acknowledged that some records may have since been expunged.
In the November 2015 report, a care provider for the boy reported to CPS that they feared Bowen and the child’s stepfather at the time were medically neglecting Christopher.
The concerns included that Christopher would lose weight while at home, but gained it back at the hospital, and that the mother had reported a multitude of symptoms involving various organs, leading to tests and invasive procedures, yet nothing wrong was found.
The doctor also suggested the mother might be seeking medical care elsewhere to keep the boy in the “sick role.”
“There has been a long-standing concern for possible medical child abuse by many providers; however, as in the case, this type of abuse is insidious and hard to pinpoint,” a Dallas doctor wrote in a 2015 letter referenced in the CPS petition.
CPS interviewed Bowen in 2015 but she denied wrong-doing. She claimed erroneously that she’d filed a malpractice lawsuit against the doctor who wrote the letter for falsifying documents and trying to blame her for it.
CPS also interviewed Christopher, but noted that the then 6-year-old boy did not make an outcry of abuse or neglect. Officials allege Bowen had taught her son to say he was sick.
As such, CPS ruled out the allegations, stating that the boy’s needs were being met and that his mother was seeking a new specialist.
Mom, friends raised money
As Crawford continued to wage his fruitless war, Bowen was apparently drawing in sympathy and donations.
“Diagnosed at the age of two, the congenital condition is slowly taking the wind out of the sails of this bright and active boy,” it stated. “His sparking eyes and ready smile belie the fact that his arteries and veins are no longer working as they should to deliver oxygen-rich blood throughout his body.”
The effort raised $8,191 of its $10,000 goal.
CW33 TV did a news report in October 2014 when a bike rally was held to raise money for Christopher’s medical bills. Viewers were told that the boy’s medical expenses were about $30,000 a year.
And in August 2016, a GoFundMe page started by a friend of Bowen’s raised $610 in donations to send Christopher to the beach. The page said Christopher had been diagnosed with cancer and had been given only six months to live.
“I want him to build sand castles, walk on the beach and let the waves hit him as he plays with his family,” the friend wrote.
On her Facebook page, Bowen still has photos of Christopher in a wheelchair, wearing a Make A Wish shirt and sandwiched between Mickey and Minnie Mouse. The CPS petition alleges Bowen had cut her son’s hair as part of the cancer ruse.
When interviewed last month by CPS, Bowen said she did not work but rather stayed home to care for Christopher. She told investigators that she received food stamps, got a disability check for her son and was on Medicaid.
Criminal investigation begins
A criminal investigation into the case would not begin until early 2016.
After coming across the Star-Telegram’s December 2015 series on medical child abuse, Crawford got in touch with Mike Weber, a Tarrant County district attorney investigator whose work on such cases was featured in the series.
Weber referred Crawford’s allegations to the Dallas County district attorney’s office, whose child abuse division began investigating. Crawford said the criminal investigation was painstakingly slow, with investigators frequently saying they were waiting on medical records.
“I had handed a whole bunch of information over to them,” Crawford said. “No medical information that I ever had, or any doctors ever had, said that Christopher was dying or said he had some kind of severe illness or disease. She was just able to fool all of the court system and fundraisers, and government assistance.”
The case took a new turn last month when CPS received another report regarding possible abuse of Christopher.
According to the petition, Bowen had taken Christopher to a children’s hospital in Dallas, reporting that he’d had a seven-minute seizure. Though an ECG machine showed no seizure activity, medical staff in the ER reported seeing Christopher having a “general and full body shake.”
Doctors advised Bowen to wean her son off his medications and medical equipment but she refused. When they reached out to a Houston hospital where Christopher had previously been treated for seizures, they learned hospital staff there also were suspicious of Bowen’s truthfulness.
In an affidavit attached to the CPS petition for removal, the medical director of children’s health at Children’s Medical Center Dallas expressed concerns that Bowen was intentionally trying to make her child sick.
“I am very concerned that mother has moved from exaggerating symptoms to inducing symptoms,” Dr. Suzanne Dakil wrote. “If mother has given Chris something to induce a seizure, this is potentially fatal. At this point, I am very concerned for his welfare.”
According to Bowen’s arrest warrant affidavit, investigators believe Bowen began abusing her son as early as April 24, 2009, when Christopher was only 11 days old. Hospital staff spotted Bowen pouring out milk that her son didn’t finish, then lying to medical professionals, saying he’d had the whole bottle.
According to Dallas police Detective Kimberly Mayfield, that instance of wrong-doing began an 8-year cycle of Bowen seeking medical treatment, doctor shopping and providing exaggerated and/or false information to medical providers. Those lies, she alleges, led to Christopher undergoing tests, radiological exams, surgeries, receiving feeding tubes, ports, pic and central lines and suffering three life-threatening blood infections.
Since his removal from his mother’s care, Christopher was admitted to the hospital where he ate regularly, had no seizures and no need for a feeding tube, oxygen or an IV, Mayfield wrote in the affidavit.
“Instead, the complainant was up and playing most of the time in the hospital,” the affidavit states.
Crawford said his son has reportedly been taken off all but allergy medications.
“You would think my son would be so screwed up. Obviously mentally, he’s going to need some counseling,” Crawford said. “But he is so sweet, so nice, so playful. You wouldn’t think that he had gone through all this abuse.”