Five-year-old Garnett Spears was screaming in pain. His head was hurting, his breathing laboured, he was trying to throw up. The little boy, from New York state, had been admitted to Nyack Hospital two days earlier with stomach issues and seizure-like symptoms, but his condition was deteriorating quickly.
A nurse phoned a specialist children’s hospital nearby to arrange a transfer.
“[His level of] Sodium is 182,” he told the doctor at Westchester Medical Center.
“No, then you need to repeat it, OK? That’s impossible.”
Within 24 hours, Garnett was declared brain dead.
By then, detectives had already swarmed the Spears’ home to gather evidence, prompted by suspicious doctors rattled by the shockingly high sodium in his blood (a normal reading would be closer to 140). Speaking to 48 Hours, Det. Kirk Budnick recalled what he saw when he walked in. An IV drip stand in the middle of the room, and feeding bags filled with cloudy liquid. On the kitchenette table, a single tin of salt.
Lacey Spears, Garnett’s mother is currently serving 20 years behind bars for murdering her son, who ultimately passed away on January 23, 2014, two days after he was placed on life support. A court determined in March the following year that the Alabama-born woman had poisoned him with lethal amounts of table salt, causing his brain to swell.
The maximum penalty in such cases in New York is 25 years, but the judge held back. He believed she had suffered an affliction of her own: Munchhausen Syndrome By Proxy.
What is Munchhausen By Proxy?
Munchhausen Syndrome By Proxy, also known as Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another, is a rare condition in which a person makes someone in their care appear ill, either by exaggerating, fabricating or inducing symptoms, in order to gain attention. According to data published by in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect, mothers were perpetrators in 76.5 per cent of cases, with the average age of victim being just four years.