Struggling to breathe without the aid of an oxygen tank, 20-year-old Mariah Walton is permanently disabled, every aspect of her life a constant struggle.
Walton’s health problems all stem from what was once a small congenital hole in her heart. But that hole was never treated, and now Walton’s body has suffered irreversible damage. Fearfully, a heart and lung transplant may be her only survival option in the future.
All of this though, could have been avoided if Walton’s parents had sought medical assistance when she first became ill. But because of the family’s religious beliefs, their daughter was kept far away from doctors and hospitals.
Shockingly, Mariah’s first ever visit to a doctor came just two years ago, when she was 18.
Mariah Walton speaks at a town hall meeting about her parent’s reluctance to seek medical help. Post continues after video…
“She [the doctor] started asking me a lot of questions I didn’t understand and used references – I didn’t know what any of them meant,” Walton said in a recent town hall meeting.
“When I mentioned blue fingers and blue round the mouth (a symptom of pulmonary hypertension), she freaked out.”
Eventually, Walton says, the doctor “told me I had this disease, and I had no idea what it was.”
Walton said she cried the entire car ride home, “so scared about what my parents would say to me.”
Followers of Christ - the secretive US Christian sect that Walton's parents belonged to - has come under fire not just for its attitudes towards medicine, but also for the protection Idaho state laws afford the group despite a child mortality rate 10 times that of the entire state.
The Followers of Christ have a firm belief that any form of medical treatment is intervening with God's will.
According to what few records are available, the majority of child deaths within the Followers are home-birthed newborns that have faced complications or infants suffering common illnesses like infections.
But there are also those of older children whose lives could have been saved over the course of days or even weeks.
When speaking at a recent town hall meeting on child faith healing, Walton, the ninth of ten children, told the story of how after collapsing at home, Walton had "blackmailed" her father into taking her to the doctors, threatening police intervention if he didn't.
It was on this visit that Walton was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension.
Having been closed off from any medical talk for her entire life, the experience of visiting the doctors had been overwhelming for Walton. "I was very scared going there," she told the meeting.
Upon return, Walton's mother refused to even look at her. But through the help of her extended family, she was able to eventually get the medical help she needed - even if was almost 20 years late.
Now, knowing what she knows, Walton recently admitted to The Guardian, "yes, I would like to see my parents prosecuted.”
When asked why, Walton continued, “They deserve it. And it might stop others.”
Mariah Walton speaking at the town hall meeting. Source: Youtube.
43-year-old man Brian Hoyt grew up in a Followers family, and told the Guardian stories of a broken ankle being treated with "rancid olive oil" and Kosher wine.
When Hoyt, who was 12 years old at the time, tried to walk on the break, his body would go into shock and he would eventually pass out.
“I would wake up to my step-dad, my uncles and the other elders of the church kicking me and beating me, calling me a fag, because I didn’t have enough faith to let God come in and heal me, while my mom and my aunts were sitting there watching," Hoyt recalled. "And that’s called faith healing.”
Brian Hoyt speaking at the town hall meeting. Source; Youtube.
One coroner's report showed another child, a 15-year-old girl named Arrian Granden died in 2012 when she contracted food poisoning and vomited so much that she ruptured her oesophagus, and eventually bled to death.
Bizarrely, the state government seems unwilling to act, with Idaho Republican state senator Lee Heider saying to interfere into a religious group's actions - or rather, inactions - would go against the first amendment to the constitution.
When confronted with the astounding child mortality rates, Heider said, “Are we going to stop Methodists from reading the New Testament? Are we going to stop Catholics receiving the sacraments? That’s what these people believe in. They spoke to me and pointed to a tremendous number of examples where Christ healed people in the New Testament.”
Undeterred, Walton, Hoyt and other ex-members are banding together to campaign the issue.
Walton and her sister contributed to a recent panel discussion with state lawmakers, and the group ha said it's determined to keep the issue firmly in the spotlight in the next state legislative session to see real change, and hopefully in the case of Walton's, parents being held accountable for the health of their children.
Recent figures estimate there are approximately 2000 people in the US who identify as Followers of Christ.