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Health Beyond the Blog: The Netflix Documentary Take Care of Maya Exposes Unequal Power Dynamics in Medicine

by Ellie Purinton

Take Care of Maya is a documentary that first debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in June 2023. The film, directed by Henry Roosevelt, follows the tragic story of the Kowalski family. At the age of 10, Maya Kowalski was diagnosed with a rare disorder called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or CRPS. Doctors prescribe Maya high doses of ketamine to treat the condition, which helps her symptoms for about a year until she has a major relapse and is taken to the emergency room. At Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, physicians accuse Maya’s mother of medical abuse, and Maya is taken into state custody and barred from seeing her parents. Maya’s mother is investigated for abuse and repeatedly denied her requests to see or even hug her daughter. After 87 days without seeing her daughter, Mrs. Kowalski commits suicide. The Kowalski family begins a long journey of suing the hospital, claiming that the hospital’s actions led to Mrs. Kowalski’s suicide.

On November 9, 2023, a jury in Venice, Fla. found for the family, awarding them damages of more than $261 million on charges of false imprisonment and battery. The hospital said it would appeal.

This documentary is an important exploration of unequal power dynamics between patients and the institutional structures of hospitals. The film delves into Maya’s memories and experiences with her illness, as well as the trauma that she endured at the hospital and because of her mother’s suicide. Over the course of filming, the producers encountered many other families who had similar experiences as the Kowalski family- after taking their children to a hospital, they were wrongfully accused of medical abuse and were unable to see their children. A fast-paced emotional rollercoaster, this film shows firsthand the harm that can occur when patients and their families are not listened to by physicians. 

Take Care of Maya is available to watch on Netflix.