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Mother Once Honored By First Lady Faces Child Abuse Charges

May 9, 1996

MARTINEZ, Calif. (AP) _ A woman once honored by Nancy Reagan for her work with sick children is being tried on charges she abused two foster children, a case prosecutors link to a psychological disorder.

In opening statements Wednesday, prosecutors said Yvonne Eldridge starved the two girls in 1994 and then told doctors they suffered from a long list of problems that included vomiting, seizures, migraines and acute diarrhea.

Based on her word, doctors did scores of tests, surgically planted feeding tubes in their stomachs and even removed one girl’s lower intestine. The sickly girls recovered only after they were taken away from Eldridge, court records say.

Though a judge has barred it as too prejudicial for trial, prosecutors maintain she was driven by Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy, a form of child abuse in which an adult makes a child ill to get attention.

Eldridge, 44, has denied having the syndrome or abusing children.

``Yvonne Eldridge did the best job she could do in taking care of these kids,″ her lawyer, William Egan, told jurors.

In 1988, Mrs. Reagan presented Eldridge with a Great American Family award, sponsored by the American Family Society, for her care of foster children born with drug addiction, AIDS or other illnesses.

If convicted of child abuse charges, she faces up to five years in prison.

Coincidentally, another mother invited to meet a first lady is also facing child abuse charges allegedly tied to Munchausen’s syndrome.

Kathy Bush of Plantation, Fla., is accused of duping doctors and subjected her 8-year-old daughter Jennifer to dozens of operations and some 200 hospital visits.

Jennifer and her mother had been at the forefront of a national fight for medical insurance for uninsured families, and they met Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House two years ago.

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