As Monika Burgett sought treatment for her son that prosecutors say was unnecessary, she convinced doctors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center that she was a physician.
Burgett “became a member the health care team,” as her then-3-year-old son was treated with drugs including Oxycodone and methadone, Dr. Robert Shapiro testified Tuesday in Burgett’s trial.
Doctors eventually came to believe Burgett, 39, was lying about the boy’s symptoms and reported suspected child abuse to Hamilton County Job and Family Services.
Burgett had also managed to convince family members – including her husband and sister – that she was a doctor.
“They believed it for many years,” Assistant Prosecutor Anne Flanagan said during opening statements in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
Flanagan said Burgett’s lies extended to two GoFundMe pages created on behalf of the boy. Among the false claims, according to testimony, was that he had a brain tumor.
Burgett had his head and eyebrows shaved, took photos of him and posted them on the pages, Flanagan said.
The GoFundMe pages amassed approximately $40,000 in donations.
Based on Burgett’s claims, Flanagan told jurors, her husband and others thought “that this little boy had cancer and was terminal.”
Burgett, who previously lived in Texas, took the boy to hospitals in Austin, Dallas and Houston before bringing him to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 2015. He also was hospitalized in Tennessee.
Burgett’s reports of fake symptoms, Flanagan said, led to “unnecessary and excessive treatment.”
“This little…child was living a life of sedation – of tubes stuck in his face and nose, tubes in his intestines and stomach,” Flanagan said.
He was removed from Burgett’s custody in March 2016, according to testimony, and placed in foster care. Within a week, the boy, now 5 years old, was thriving.
After being cared for at Children’s Hospital without his mother’s input, he was “running around the room from the bed to the couch” with spaghetti sauce “around his mouth,” Shapiro testified.
“He needed no pain medication whatsoever,” Shapiro said. “He ate like a champ.”
According to juvenile court documents the boy, as of June 20, was living with his father in Texas.
Burgett’s attorney, M.J. Hugan, said the boy had numerous medical problems – she pointed to stacks of binders filled with records – and needed medical care since being born extremely premature at 25 weeks.
He was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder, which caused a growth inside his mouth.
Doctors, she said, had authorized the treatments and procedures.
Hugan said Burgett sought treatment at multiple facilities because the boy's medical issues were complex. Doctors had made errors, as well.
Hugan said doctors at one Texas hospital didn’t realize her son had suffered a brain injury after a vehicle crash. She took him to another hospital, where he was properly diagnosed and underwent two brain surgeries.
“What she was trying to do, is get care – get the right care for her child,” Hugan told jurors in opening statements.
Hugan acknowledged that Burgett lied about being a doctor. Her previous husband is a doctor and she had been with him during medical school, Hugan said.
“At some point, she adopted the idea she was a physician,” Hugan told jurors.
Testimony will continue Wednesday before Judge Curt Hartman. Burgett is charged with child abuse, felonious assault and telecommunications fraud.
Officials at Children’s Hospital declined to comment about Burgett’s role in her son's treatment.
Chris Graves contributed to this report.