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Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: Colorado mom charged in daughter's death through rare form of medical child abuse

Mother's murder trial set for February 2022
Olivia Gant
Posted at 10:15 AM, Dec 30, 2021
and last updated 2022-01-03 22:16:31-05

UPDATE (1/3/2022)

Just one month before Kelly R. Turner's trial was set to begin, she pleaded guilty Monday afternoon to the following charges:

Child abuse negligently resulting in death: Class 3 felony

Theft ($100,000-$1,000,000): Class 3 felony

Charitable fraud: Class 5 felony

Since a plea agreement was reached in this case, no trial will be held.

Turner will be sentenced on Feb. 9, 2022.

ORIGINAL STORY (12/30/2021)

Olivia Gant, 7, spent most of her childhood in and out of hospitals---battling a series of "mysterious" illnesses before passing away.

Olivia Gant
Olivia Gant in hospital bed

"She was a loving child," Olivia Gant's step grandfather, Lonnie Gautreau said. "She just had a great imagination and loved playing with her dolls."

"They (doctors) saw Olivia for over 1,000 hospital visits and hospitalizations," family attorney Hollynd Hoskins said.

Now, Olivia's mother, Kelly R. Turner, is charged with her daughter's death and is accused of making up medical problems.

"Over 25 unnecessary surgical procedures were performed," Hoskins said.

Hollynd Hoskins
Hollynd Hoskins, Attorney

News 5 Investigates found staff at Children's Hospital Colorado had their suspicions that Turner may have been lying about her daughter's condition.

Hoskins says the hospital failed to notify law enforcement or the Department of Human Services until it was too late.

"Colorado's mandatory reporting law absolutely should have protected Olivia, and they didn't," she said.

As Olivia's mother awaits trial, there are questions over whether the hospital is partly responsible for the child's death.

Lonnie Gautreau
Lonnie Gautreau, Olivia's step grandfather

"I want answers," Gautreau said. "We want the truth of why all this happened."

At the center of this case: Did a mother really do the unthinkable and were there red flags that were missed?

"Olivia's family is absolutely committed to making sure this doesn't happen to any other child," Hoskins said.

Our News 5 investigative unit is looking into what investigators believe is a rare case of medical child abuse known as "Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy".

For five years, Olivia's mother had been taking her to Children's Hospital Colorado for a series of treatments.

Children's Hospital Colorado
Children's Hospital Colorado

Olivia eventually passed away in 2017.

Olivia's family also believes Children's Hospital Colorado should be held accountable too---sending an official "notice of intent to sue" seeking $25 million in damages.

Just days before an official lawsuit was going to be filed, News 5 learned the hospital settled the case behind closed doors.

Olivia Gant
Olivia Gant

When Olivia was just two years old, her mother left Texas with her children and came to Colorado.

Gautreau says he and his wife would come to visit their grandchildren as often as they could.

"Olivia loved watching movies," Gautreau said. "She could watch a movie one time and the next time she watched it, she could say word for word what the characters were saying. That's just how smart she was."

Unfortunately, Gautreau would never be able to see Olivia grow up.

Timeline of events:

Olivia's medical records provided a road map for prosecutors.

In 2012, Olivia was taken into Children's Hospital Colorado's Anschutz Medical Campus for the first time.

Kelly R. Turner
Kelly Turner, Olivia's mother

Her mother claimed Olivia was having trouble digesting foods and was constipated. Doctors addressed the issue by removing a hardened stool from her colon.

As time went on, Olivia's mom kept bringing her back and claimed she was unable or unwilling to eat normally.

"We had no reason to believe that what Kelly Turner (Olivia's mom) was telling us wasn't true because she was in the best care she could be under," Gautreau said.

In 2014, Olivia went in for surgery.

Doctors re-routed her small intestine to bypass her large intestine so that waste went into a bag through a hole in her stomach.

The surgery reportedly relieved the constipation, but Turner continued reporting that her daughter was still having digestive problems.

Olivia Gant
Olivia Gant

In less than a year, Hoskins says Olivia had three different types of feeding tubes installed.

Then when Turner claimed her daughter couldn't tolerate being fed that way, doctors installed a tube to send nutrition through her veins---a process known as TPN.

During the time Olivia was at Children's Hospital, Turner somehow convinced doctors to prescribe her daughter Keppra, an anti-seizure medication. This was done despite medical reports showing doctors never actually witnessed Olivia suffering from a seizure.

For years, doctors continued treating Olivia based heavily on statements Turner was telling them.

Then in 2017, Olivia's mother made a "do not resuscitate" request to the hospital and told staff that she wanted to stop Olivia's TPN, the tube sending all of her nutrition through her veins. Stopping this process would kill Olivia.

Some medical staff opposed the "do not resuscitate" order, also known as a DNR. When this happened, hospital staff assigned Olivia a new doctor who agreed to sign off on the order.

Children's Hospital Colorado
Children's Hospital Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Olivia was discharged, went into hospice care and died less than 3 weeks later.

"Two days before she died, I was holding her hand in hospice and she was on heavy narcotics," Gautreau said. "All they would give her was popsicle juice and toward the end it was on a sponge. I was holding her hand and she opened her eyes and recognized me and immediately and said, 'Papa I'm hungry.'"

At the time, Gautreau said he was mad at the mysterious set of illnesses taking his granddaughter's life.

After the little girl's death, multiple doctors told investigators on-record that they believe Olivia was not terminally ill.

Gautreau said this discovery made him sick to his stomach.

"That put another dagger in my heart thinking when she told me she was hungry, what was she thinking when I didn't do anything," Gautreau said. "Her mother said to take a little popsicle juice on a sponge and put it on her lips and what was she thinking of me not giving her food? That haunts me every single night since I found that she was not terminally ill and wasn't even sick and they tortured her for 5 years. It haunts me every single night."

Olivia's family doesn't want her life to be overshadowed or forgotten by her mother's upcoming murder case.

Kelly R. Turner
Kelly R. Turner

Kelly R. Turner's fate may soon rest in the hands of a jury and as that case is prepared for trial, there's another element to this story.

Multi-Million dollar claim against Children's Hospital Colorado:

Attorneys who started the lawsuit process via a "notice of intent to sue" believe Children's Hospital Colorado failed to follow Colorado's mandatory child reporting laws.

They believe Olivia's death could have been prevented months or even years before she passed away.

Attorney Hollynd Hoskins says Olivia's life could have been saved if only hospital staff had immediately contacted police or the Department of Human Services (DHS).

"Myself and the Gold Law Firm felt we had an absolute duty to represent Olivia's siblings, Olivia's grandparents and to make sure this never happens to another family," Hoskins said. "The doctors at Children's Hospital treated Olivia from 2012-2017, saw her for 1,000 admissions and performed over 25 unnecessary procedures on a healthy child. The records will show you that Olivia was healthy, that Olivia was able to eat, that Olivia was not sick and that Olivia's mother's complaints were unfounded."

One example Hoskins highlights is with Olivia's mother giving her daughter Keppra---a drug doctors say is primarily used to treat seizures.

"I know a neurologist ordered Olivia's mother to stop giving her anti-seizure medication because there was no evidence that Olivia had seizures," News 5 Investigates told Hoskins. "How was her mother still able to get a hold of that medication?"

"That needs to be investigated," Hoskins said.

According to the arrest affidavit, the same doctor who ordered Turner to stop the seizure medication on multiple occasions, also told investigators that Olivia "was not a terminal patient".

Law enforcement also conducted multiple other interviews with staff after Olivia died.

One of those interviews involved an occupational therapist who specialized in feeding and eating. This medical professional treated Olivia and claims the girl graduated to age-appropriate foods and had no problems swallowing or tolerating foods. The report goes on to say that Olivia completed therapy sessions without any problems.

Investigators also spoke with two pediatric gastrointestinal doctors---both said Olivia was not a terminal patient.

However, Hoskins says the red flags started years before Olivia passed away.

In 2015, Hoskins noted that Olivia was sent to Boston Children's Hospital for a second opinion with another doctor after she had multiple feeding tubes and an ileostomy bag installed.

"His (the Boston Children's Hospital doctor) recommendation was to reverse the ileostomy and get her off the narcotics and that Olivia could live a long, normal life," Hoskins said. "That report from Boston's Children's Hospital was sent to Children's Hospital."

Hoskins says after that report was submitted, treatments for Olivia at Children's Hospital Colorado continued.

Two years after Olivia's second opinion was reportedly sent to Children's Hospital Colorado, another issue was discovered---this time inside Children's Hospital Colorado.

"In March of 2017, they (medical staff) caught Olivia's mother red-handed discarding the ileostomy bag," Hoskins said. "Once they caught her doing that, they set up a one-on-one sitter to be in the room with Olivia around the clock with her mother. During that time period, her condition improved once the sitter was there."

Shortly after this incident occurred, Hoskins says Olivia's mom requested a "do not resuscitate" order for Olivia.

Dr. Thomas Walker, a pediatric gastroenterologist, told investigators that all of Olivia's symptoms and medical history came directly from Turner and that Olivia did not exhibit the symptoms Turner had described most of the time.

Dr. Walker found Olivia to be very "active, social, and fun" and News 5 later discovered he was one staff member who did report his concerns to the higher ups at Children's Hospital.

"Unfortunately, Children's Hospital's ethics team voted against Dr. Walker and voted in favor of the mother," Hoskins said. "The care was transferred from Dr. Walker to another doctor who agreed to sign the do not resuscitate (DNR) order. The problem is that Dr. Walker failed to pick up the phone and make one call to outside social services or to law enforcement and that call would have saved Olivia's life. There were several nurses who went to the Children's Hospital child protection and social worker team and made complaints that they believed medical child abuse was going on. Children's Hospital child protection team and social worker team determined that those suspicions did not rise to the level that needed to be reported to the outside social services agency."

News 5 Investigates followed up by asking, "These nurses and doctors could have gone to law enforcement or DHS if they wanted to, correct?"

"These individual nurses and doctors not only could have gone to the outside agencies and reported the child abuse, every single one was mandated by Colorado law that they had a duty to report any suspicions of child abuse or medical child abuse to authorities. They are a mandatory reporter and they should have reported it to the outside agencies."

Dr. Walker did not respond to our request for comment.

Like other states, Colorado does have mandatory reporting laws which require a handful of professionals like teachers and emergency personnel to report suspected abuse, but can an agency's own internal policies take precedent over state law?

Records News 5 obtained show the hospital discussed Olivia's care internally, but we found no evidence that the suspicions doctors had ever made it outside hospital walls until after Olivia died.

News 5 reached out to Children's Hospital Colorado to discuss Olivia's care and specifically asked whether any policies or procedures have been modified as a result of this case.

After all, if the same scenario were to happen again, would the hospital report concerns to police to DHS?

Spokesperson Elizabeth Whitehead issued the following statement:

This is an incredibly complicated case, and unfortunately federal HIPAA laws and an ongoing criminal trial involving Olivia’s mother mean that we simply cannot comment on or share details related to Olivia’s care or this case. If we could, we are confident that the community would recognize and appreciate the deep sense of commitment and professionalism Children’s Hospital Colorado staff and University of Colorado physicians bring to all of our patients.

This statement was sent to KOAA 5 prior to the hospital settling the civil case against them for an undisclosed amount of money.

News 5 also followed up for comment on the settlement.

"All that we can share is that the matter has been resolved," spokesperson Leila Roche said via email.

How did Kelly R. Turner get caught?

Court documents reveal that investigators began looking into Turner after she started bringing Olivia's sister into Children's Hospital.

"Turner was making complaints that she (Olivia's sister) had prior cancer, bone pain and there was concern the cancer had returned," Hoskins said. "It took one doctor during her first visit to look at the child and say that doesn't make sense. That doctor followed the standard of care, picked up the phone, called the prior hospital, and found out that what the mother had been telling them was untrue. The next phone call was to outside social services."

Hoskins says Olivia's sister was removed from Turner's care and placed with her grandparents.

Meanwhile, law enforcement started researching Turner's background and care concerning Olivia.

After speaking with multiple doctors, Turner was indicted for first-degree murder, theft, charitable fraud, forgery and attempting to influence a public servant.

According to the arrest affidavit, 161 donors contributed more than $22,000 through GoFundMe for Olivia's care.

Olivia Gant
Olivia Gant at her "Bat Princess" Make-A-Wish party

Make-A-Wish spent more than $11,000 to have a "bat-princess" party for Olivia at a local hotel. Olivia also got to be an honorary police officer in Denver for a day.

Detectives also learned Turner received more than $538,000 in Medicaid benefits, but that's nothing compared to the cost Hoskins says Children's Hospital Colorado billed for its series of treatments for Olivia.

"They billed over $3 million dollars for treating a healthy child," she said. "They used Olivia to advertise and fundraise for their hospital."

Olivia's body now rests in the Seven Stones Chatfield Cemetery.

Olivia Gant
Olivia Gant's headstone

"I don't ever want this to happen to another child and whatever it takes to get that policy change needs to be done," Gautreau said. "One call could have saved that child's life."

Gautreau says no amount of money will ever fill the void of not having his granddaughter alive. At the time of our interview in the summer of 2021, Gautreau said he had no idea what, if any policy changes have been made regarding reporting suspected child abuse to outside social services or law enforcement.

"Even though all Olivia knew was riding in ambulances, staying in a hospital, having tubes in her body and on pain medications, all the photographs and videos tell a story about a resilient young girl who still loved life, loved being happy and loved being the entertainer," Hoskins added. "Olivia should be here today."

According to the Cleveland Clinic---a non profit American Academic Medical Center, Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is not always easy to detect. Some red flags may not become obvious until later on.

Warning signs of possible medical child abuse include:

-Parent or guardian always reporting a mysterious illness or medical problem when no one else is around

-Disclosing medical issues that cannot be witnessed or validated

-Parents often have some type of medical background or knowledge

-Lack of medical records or requesting more medical tests be done after previous tests yielded no problems

-Parent or guardian requesting a new doctor whenever a current doctor tries to verify, question or validate medical information

Medical Child Abuse
Signs of medical child abuse

Policy Changes within Childrens's Hospital:

It's still unclear whether the hospital modified or created any policy changes as a result of Olivia's case.

In a follow up email, News 5 specifically asked the hospital whether it could clarify if any policies specifically related to mandatory reporting laws have changed.

"I'm afraid we cannot," spokesperson Elizabeth Whitehead said. "We have to be very careful here that we don’t inadvertently influence an ongoing criminal case."

Turner's trial:

Court records show Turner has a pre-trial readiness conference on Jan. 27, 2022. 

Her trial is set to begin on Feb 7. 

She currently sits in the Douglas County Jail and has recently been charged with additional crimes related to violating a protection order for contacting her surviving daughter. 

Turner has not responded to our request for comment. 

Update: 

Since Olivia's sister has been out of Turner's care, Gautreau says his granddaughter has had no cancer or any major medical issues. 

Transparency report: 

Interviews and materials gathered for this story were obtained and researched prior to Children's Hospital Colorado settling the civil claim. Following the settlement, the family and their attorney have been unable to comment further or disclose the monetary agreement. 

Have a story idea or problem you'd like our News 5 Investigates team to look into? Email us: News5Investigates@KOAA.com