Posts tagged ‘Tufts Medical Center’

Kifuji on the Defense

The controversial Dr. Kifuji, prescribing psychiatrist for Rebecca Riley, appears to have evaded any criminal responsibility by exchanging her testimony for immunity. She is, however, up against a malpractice suit and some of the things that have come up are startling in terms of just how Rebecca’s very early death transpired and the role Kifuji played in all of it. I know I’ve brought up the doctor’s role in this before but every new fact that comes out is more frightening and infuriating than the last.

The Patriot Ledger ran an article that covers many of the almost too-bad-to-be-true circumstances that point to the fact that if Rebecca and Dr. Kifuji had never met, Rebecca might still be here. Regardless of your opinions on children and drugs, this case was wrong all around and the result of at least three people’s indefensible actions. Kifuji was more a drug dealer than a psychiatrist and while that’s not particularly uncommon, the young ages of her patients makes her a standout, even among the over-drugging crowd and the predictable end result in Rebecca’s case shows her to be  both reckless and ill qualified.

From the Patriot Ledger article:

Years before she became a board-certified psychiatrist, Dr. Kayoko Kifuji was diagnosing children as young as 2 as bipolar and hyperactive – and prescribing powerful cocktails of mood-altering drugs to quiet them.

By the time Kifuji finally passed the psychiatric board exam – on her fourth try – one of her youngest patients, Rebecca Riley, had a little more than a year to live.

The lack of involvement on Kifuji’s part was shocking. She saw Rebecca primarily for twenty minute sessions to adjust doses. Often she just used these sessions to put on paper her approval for the adjustments her mother was already making, having increased doses on her own and experimented with drug cocktails using drugs prescribed (also by Kifuji) to Rebecca’s siblings.

She relied almost exclusively on what Carolyn told her about the kids when diagnosing them and ordering increasing amounts of drugs for them.

Kifuji also trusted the mother to keep tabs on Rebecca’s heart rate and blood pressure for signs of problems with the four drugs she was on. Kifuji, a pediatrician who later became a psychiatrist, told Novotny during the deposition that she didn’t realize she had a blood pressure cuff in her office and could check the girl’s vital signs herself until after Rebecca was dead. She said she didn’t take Rebecca’s pulse with her fingers because Carolyn Riley told her the child’s pulse “was within normal range.”

Even a well intentioned mother shouldn’t be solely in charge of monitoring a child’s heart rate and blood pressure let alone a woman hell bent on gaining access to more and stronger drugs at the expense of her daughter’s health. Also, any pediatrician turned psychiatrist should think of performing such simple tasks as second nature. If not that, then what is a doctor for? How do you not even know you have basic medical equipment in your office? How does a doctor fail to check a child’s pulse? Oh, that’s right — her mother said. If that’s all there is to doctoring, it’s no wonder some might see her as just a drug dispenser. They can do the rest at home, it’s a mere technicality that you must be licensed to prescribe.

  • Asked why she didn’t report Carolyn Riley to child welfare authorities after learning that the mother had increased the children’s doses at least twice without checking with her first, Kifuji said: “I just can’t report to the DSS. I need to … my role is to work with the parent and not judging them.”
  • Asked if she ever told Carolyn not to give Rebecca cold medicine on top of all the drugs the child was on, Kifuji says no, “but it’s because Rebecca didn’t get sick, and I was never asked ”

Right — let a mother chemically abuse and experiment on a child but whatever you do, don’t judge and certainly don’t  give them any more information than they asked for. The article goes on to point out other times that Kifuji refilled prescriptions before they should have run out, never asking for an explanation, just dishing out more and more drugs.

She prescribed clonidine – the drug that killed Rebecca – during the child’s first visit to control the “impulsivity” that Carolyn Riley described. Rebecca was 2 at the time.

Impulsivity at two hardly makes a child a psychiatric oddity but when you look at some of her notes regarding Rebecca’s apparently troubling behavior it’s easy to get the notion that Kifuji sees childhood as a disorder unto itself.

“Then consistently hyper all the time. Climbs up to top of jungle gym without any fears and thinking. Gets into everything. Just walk up to someone and smack them. Never gets aggressive. Hits kicks and spits when she’s being disciplined and laughs. Started to say things scared her. Whines and fusses a lot.”

Kifuji described the toddler as dysarthric, meaning she could not properly pronounce some words.

“A bit tired since yesterday. Coming down on flu. Fine as long as she takes clonidine. Sleeps throughout. Without clonidine gets very hyper and impulsive.”

“Climbs up on top of bureau. Tantrums or sobbing when she was told to clean up her toys” and “she wasn’t listening to her mother.”

This child was drugged for one reason — she was stricken with a case of toddlerhood. Dr. Kifuji seems to see no distinction between behavior and disease. Now that psychiatry has largely gotten away from talk therapy, we’re supposed to see psychiatrists as doctors of the brain — linking behavior to dysfunction in the brain. If that’s the case, Kifuji doesn’t make it very well. She’s like a mad scientist but without the science.

She explained that some researchers believe the area of the brain called the amygdala is different in people with bipolar disease. But she admitted she didn’t know where the amygdala is in the brain.

Of course you don’t need to know the brain at all to dispense drugs in the manner that Kifuji had begun making a career of (there is a timeline of Rebecca’s “treatment” at the bottom of the article). You only need to know that if you sedate a child enough, you can drug the behavior out of them. Sure, that child may be a “floppy doll” sitting in the corner but a quiet floppy doll and certainly not disruptive and if enough people will pay you to drug the childhood out of their children to one extent or another, then you’re in business.

Yes, the parents physically gave the drugs to Rebecca but they were used as a weapon and that weapon was provided by Dr. Kifuji. If she had given them a blackjack instead and told them how many times you have to hit a kid for effective behavioral treatment, this would be a different case entirely. Our view of prescribed medicine as care makes us resistant to the notion that drugs can be poison but they clearly can be and often are, particularly with psych drugs. When this happens, we need to respond accordingly.

There are no less than three guilty parties here in a case of chemical assault that ended in a child’s death. It’s bad enough that Dr. Kifuji was granted immunity making it impossible to hold her criminally accountable, even as more facts come to light pointing to her role not in anything resembling care but in a death. If she is not held civilly and professionally accountable, we’re saying her actions are acceptable, even desirable and we’re signing off on a prescription for some seriously detrimental treatment. I’m relieved to see she’s at least going to be made to answer for her actions. She’s certainly got a lot to answer for in this suit. Now we’ll have to wait and see what passes as accountability these days.

April 14, 2010 at 10:47 am 4 comments


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