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.