Victim of rare child abuse syndrome tells of her experiences
Jul. 08, 1997
CHICAGO (AP) _ In the summer of 1961, 2-year-old Mary Bryk had an ankle injury that would not heal.
Her swelling worsened, and she ran very high fevers. Antibiotics didn't work. In the next few years, Mary had several broken bones. Each time, her condition worsened.
Now grown and writing in a medical journal published this month, Mary Bryk says her medical crises were caused by her mother, who for eight years beat Mary with a hammer and infected her wounds with soil and coffee grounds.
Her mother denies hurting Mary. But Bryk says her mother committed the abuse because the woman was afflicted with a rare mental disorder called Munchausen by proxy syndrome, in which parents harm their children to bring attention upon themselves.
``To this day ... the two-size difference in my shoe size and the massive scars that cover my arms are a constant reminder of my mother's distorted love,'' she wrote in the July issue of Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Bryk's father and many of her relatives support her mother's claim that she never abused Mary, she said.
Munchausen by proxy syndrome was first identified in 1977, and firsthand accounts by victims are rare, according to Bryk and Dr. Patricia Siegel, a Detroit child psychologist who said she confirmed Bryk's account with her medical records and co-wrote the article in Pediatrics.
Munchausen by proxy syndrome is an offshoot of Munchausen syndrome, in which patients feign serious illness to get attention. The disorders are named for Baron von Munchhausen, an 18th-century German known for telling tall tales.
Perpetrators of Munchausen by proxy syndrome are almost always female and usually seem to be model parents, Bryk and Siegel wrote.
``The abusive behavior is clearly premeditated, not impulsive or in reaction to the child's behavior,'' they said.
Bryk and Siegel urged doctors to more aggressively check for instances of Munchausen by proxy abuse.
Bryk said she remembers being between 2 and 3 years old, stuck in her high chair with the tray pulled tightly to her chest. Her hands were tied and her leg was bound to the chair with a towel, she wrote.
``I'm doing this for your own good,'' Bryk recalled her mother saying as she hit the girl's foot with a hammer. ``The doctor wants me to do this treatment to make you better.''
The ``treatments'' became regular, Bryk said. Her mother _ a nurse _ would pick the girl up early from school to administer the beatings, Bryk said.
Once, even while Mary was in the hospital, she suffered a broken leg. Her mother filled out the nursing report to cover up a blow she had delivered, Bryk said.
She said the abuse stopped when she threatened to tell her doctor and teacher. She was in the fourth grade.
Bryk, a nurse who is married with two children and lives in Detroit, has cut off contact with her family and said she finally has come to terms with the horrors of her childhood.
She said in an interview that she wanted to publish her account to make pediatricians learn the dangers of failing to spot Munchausen abuse.
``If I can even help one other child, I've done something worthwhile,'' she said.