'I can't take the pain anymore.' The true story behind Netflix's Take Care of Maya.

Content warning: This post includes discussion of suicide that may be distressing to some readers.

Maya Kowalski was 10 years old when her parents rushed her into the emergency department at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The new Netflix documentary, Take Care of Maya, examines what happened to the family during that hospital visit and how their lives would unravel afterwards.

It was 2015, and Jack and Beata Kowalski had been desperately searching for a way to help their daughter Maya, who was living with a neurological disorder called complex regional pain syndrome (CPRS). Maya first began experiencing symptoms when she was 9 years old. The asthma attacks came first, then the headaches, and then lesions formed on her arms and legs. Eventually, her feet cramped and curled.

Watch: The trailer for Netflix's Take Care of Maya. Post continues after video.

Video via Netflix.

In an interview with PEOPLE, Maya's former doctor, Anthony Kirkpatrick, described CPRS as "an abnormal function of the sympathetic nervous system... your senses get ramped up so if a drop of water touches your skin, it can feel like somebody's jabbing you with a knife."


Maya, her parents Jack and Beata Kowalski, and Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick. Image: Netflix.

At one point Maya and her parents travelled to Hospital San José Tecnologico in Monterrey, Mexico, where she was put into a ketamine coma. The treatment worked at first, but then the pain came back.

Crippled with stomach pains and confined to a wheelchair, Jack and Beata took Maya to Johns Hopkins. According to The Cut, Maya spent 24 hours in the ICU "screaming and writhing". When a nurse attempted to conduct an ultrasound, Beata told her the only thing that could help her daughter was ketamine.


Alarmed, the nurse reported the comments to the hospital administration.

The next day, a paediatric ICU physician named Beatriz Teppa Sanchez phoned Dr. Sally Smith, the medical director of the child-protection team for Pinellas County, and raised her concerns about the Kowalskis. Sanchez told Smith that Beata had asked for her daughter to be given 1,500 milligrams of ketamine and that Maya "appeared to shake, squirm, and cry out in pain less often when her mother was out of the room".

After she hung up the phone, Smith began to look into Maya's medical history. "I got medical records on that child, going back to when she was a toddler, that were from probably 30 different medical providers," she told The Cut in 2022.

It wasn't long until Beata was suspected of having Munchausen by proxy syndrome - a mental disorder that causes parents to intentionally harm their children. Maya was taken into state custody and a court-ordered psychological exam was put in place for Beata.

"One day I was in the ICU, and my mum kissed me on the forehead and was like, 'I love you. I'll see you tomorrow,'" Maya told PEOPLE. "I never saw her again. I was medically kidnapped. I tried being hopeful, but there was a point where I thought, 'I'm never getting out of this place.'"

During the 87-day period that she was separated from her daughter, Beata rapidly deteriorated from stress. In the documentary, Jack recalls how she would stay up all night researching and not eat.


Tragically, Beata ended her own life before she was reunited with her daughter.

"I'm sorry, but I no longer can take the pain of being away from Maya and being treated like a criminal. I cannot watch my daughter suffer in pain and keep getting worse," she wrote in an email to her family.

"This little girl was already hurting, and now I had to tell her that her mother's passed," Jack told PEOPLE. "It was horrible."

Just one week later, Jack regained full custody of Maya and she returned home. After a year of treatments, Maya was able to walk again. She regained full use of her arms and legs.

"We worked with her slowly: water therapy, things like that," Jack told PEOPLE. "But it was horrible—after losing my wife, I thought my daughter was next."

The Kowalski Family. Image: Netflix.


Despite her successful treatments, Maya still experiences pain. "I do my best to push through," she told PEOPLE. "I've already missed a lot, so I want to make the most of life now."

Now 16, Maya and her father are suing the hospital.

"Psychologically, it destroyed all of us," Jack told The Cut. "When somebody knocks on our door, now you don't want to answer it because you're worried it's somebody from Children and Families. You don't want your child to play sports because if they get hurt, where am I going to take them?"

Take Care of Maya is now streaming on Netflix. 

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Gesi Schilling/Netflix.

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