EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated. New information appears chronologically at the bottom of the article.
CHICAGO, IL — When a woman attempted to transfer her chronically-ill son from one hospital to another, she was accused of “medical child abuse” and her 16-year-old son was stripped from her custody and placed into the hands of the state.
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A LIFELONG ORDEAL
The plight of the Rider family stemmed from dealing with a lifelong illness suffered by Isaiah Rider, 16. Isaiah had been born with a rare genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis, a “horrible” condition in which tumors develop on nerves throughout the body.
Isaiah has spent much of his life under the care of doctors. For ten years he sought treatment at the same Missouri hospital to deal with his various issues. Between 2003 and 2012, he had a total of seven surgeries on his leg; the final one was a partial amputation below his left knee.
Despite all the physical obstacles, Isaiah lived the life of a normal teenager, attending school as a sophomore; working as a busboy at a restaurant; anxious to get a driver’s license.
Things took an unfortunate turn in January of 2014, when Isaiah had to be hospitalized for complications with his amputated leg. He was experiencing hours-long convulsions, and pain so severe that he thought he was going to die. His mom, 34-year-old Michelle Rider, drove him around the country to see various specialists. Due to his unusual combination of ailments, finding satisfactory treatment was not easy.
SEEKING THE BEST CARE
In a span of four months, they had visited doctors in Missouri, Texas, and Massachusetts. The family’s quest for medical relief eventually brought them to Chicago. In late March of 2014, Isaiah was checked into Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital (“Lurie”).
Isaiah was put through surgery at Lurie, but his pain and symptoms only worsened. After weeks of hospitalization, there was still no diagnosis for Isaiah’s pain and convulsions. Doctors clashed with Ms. Rider, who had grown dissatisfied and did not believe that the staff had the requisite experience to fix her son’s rare issue. She urged for a hospital transfer.
Ms. Rider chronicled some of the ordeal to her family and friends on Facebook. On April 10th, she explained that her decision to remove her son from Lurie was “not because the care is bad, because it’s not,” she wrote. “The nurses and doctors are very invested and committed to caring for [Isaiah], but they don’t know what it is and it’s difficult to treat something when you don’t know. [Isaiah] deserves an opportunity to have another set of eyes and hands.”
“MEDICAL CHILD ABUSE”
The transfer request was denied. Having no diagnosis to offer after a lengthy hospitalization, Lurie staff claimed that Isaiah’s pain was being caused by Ms. Rider herself; an anxiety-caused ailment.
On April 15th, Lurie Hospital contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) via its child abuse hotline. Hospital officials claimed that Ms. Rider’s advocacy was supposedly “interfering” with Isaiah’s treatment and well-being and wanted her removed from the picture.
“They called it medical child abuse,” Ms. Rider told the Chicago Tribune. But she didn’t know what that meant. “They told me to look it up. They said ‘we are taking custody of your son for 48 hours,’ and that they would be making medical decisions going forward.”
Her parental rights had been stripped through a phone call. Isaiah, although 16 years old, was not legally allowed to make his own medical decisions. Now a ward of the state, he was isolated from his mother and left to be medicated at the behest of doctors and social workers.
Family members and numerous family acquaintances spoke in outrage about the separation. By all accounts, Ms. Rider was an attentive and loving mother who cared about getting her son well.
“Every time [Isaiah] had to go to the hospital, [Michelle] would stay by his side until he could leave the hospital,” said Isaiah’s grandfather, Gary Rider. “I guess from my point of view that’s why I’m outraged at the allegations. I don’t understand them.”
Ms. Rider denies the hospital’s claim that she was medically abusing her child. It wasn’t even possible, the family said.
“He had one of those tremors at Lurie’s in surgery under general anesthetic,” Isaiah’s grandmother, Judy Rider, told KCTV, questioning how an anxiety-related or fabricated illness could cause a seizure in such a state.
Lurie Hospital also alleged that the mom, who was an experienced hospice nurse, pushed to have Isaiah unnecessarily put on more drugs. But she says truth is the exact opposite.
“The documents say otherwise,” Ms. Rider said. “The hospital tried to start him on methadone, a very strong narcotic, twice, and I said no, because narcotics do not help him. It’s [a] nerve [issue]. Why would I say, ‘OK, sure, just throw all these meds at my son?'”
TORN APART BY THE STATE
The 48-hour emergency custody was extended for weeks, and Ms. Rider was kept completely away from Isaiah and denied visitation privileges. It would be another 24 days before the teen and his mom would see each other face-to-face again.
“They told me I wasn’t able to see my mother and I was shocked. I was shocked by it,” Isaiah Rider later explained in a three-minute-long video he posted on Facebook. “I was like: I’m not allowed to see my mom anymore? She didn’t even do anything wrong.”
Lurie staff pushed the idea that Ms. Rider was showing signs of a mental disorder: Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy. This was used to further the notion that the Missouri mom was bothering doctors with fabricated medical concerns.
The claims of abuse were never turned into criminal charges, and Ms. Rider was never put before a jury to defend her case. By all legal definitions she was innocent, and never proven guilty of any abuse or wrongdoing. Yet the state wielded its power to instantly and indefinitely break apart the family using rumors and allegations.
Meanwhile, bureaucrats went as far as to cut off Isaiah’s phone privileges while being held against his will in state custody.
“My son kept calling us, and we could tell he was in pain and we didn’t know what to do,” explained Ms. Rider. Then the calls stopped. “The Department of Children and Family Services said Isaiah was instructed not to call his family when he was in pain and we asked why. All of a sudden my son is being held hostage in the hospital,” she said. “They just let him suffer.”
“THEY RUINED MY LIFE.”
Still in state custody, Isaiah was finally discharged from the hospital on May 6th and placed in a children’s facility. But the transfer would be short-lived. According to his mother, the facility was medically inappropriate for Isaiah so he was sent back to Lurie Hospital, where he sat in an Emergency Room for 6 hours without being admitted.
Ultimately, social workers placed him into foster care in Chicago — away from his family, away from his friends and girlfriend, and hundreds of miles from his Missouri home.
“I feel they took me away from my mom and now I’m living here in foster care with some person I barely know,” Isaiah remarked in a video message. “What Lurie Children’s Hospital has done to me is ruined my life, and this is something I never will forget.”
The Rider family was left depending on a public defender to represent them in front of a judge, after being financially wiped out after extensive hospital bills.
“It almost feels like a David and Goliath scenario because the state and the hospital pretty much have unlimited resources and she doesn’t,” said Isaiah’s grandmother, Judy.
In July, a judge refused to reunite the Rider family and gave DCFS the blessing to continue holding Isaiah in custody. According to the Chicago Tribune, Isaiah will spend the rest of the summer trapped in foster care, and it will be at least 90 days before the State of Illinois considers transferring the teen to another child welfare agency in his home state of Missouri. Even then, there is no guarantee of when (or if) he will be returned to his family.
“He has been here since March and he wants to come home, and we want him to come home,” said his mom to KCTV. “He’s been through so much in his young life. He doesn’t deserve this. No one does.”
The Rider family has acknowledged parallels to the situation of Justina Pelletier, the teen girl whose name has become synonymous with the injustice in the child welfare system. In that case, Massachusetts DCFS accused her parents of “medical child abuse” and broke up their family for well over a year.
View NBC Chicago’s interview with the family:
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Isaiah contests the allegations against his mother and described how the ordeal has affected his family in a recent interview. He says that he was heavily drugged during the custody intervention and believes didn’t even realize what had happened at first.
“I just want to be back with my mom…” Isaiah told The Inquisitor. “She never did anything wrong.”
“This has totally affected our whole family. There was no need for this,” Isaiah added. “We have all been deeply affected by this separation. It would have been better if this wouldn’t have happened.”
Isaiah ultimately spent months in foster care and was finally released to his grandparents, but remains under DCFS supervision.
Isaiah’s mother released a disturbing revelation about her son’s experience in state care. On the January 13, 2015, episode of “The Common Sense Show” with David Hodges, Michelle Rider spoke of Isaiah being raped by a strange man. Ms. Rider said:
“Isaiah just recently disclosed, while he was in the hospital in Kansas City, that – this is the first time that I’ve ever publicly talked about this – but he was sexually assaulted. He was raped and sodomized at gunpoint with a gun to his head while he was in foster care in Dolten, Illinois. He disclosed that to his guardian ad litem, his caseworker, and when he went back to Chicago, just recently on December 5, he actually was experiencing Post Traumatic Stress events, because he was brought back to the area of crime, where a crime was committed against him. This is all well-documented. To this date, there has been no report, no investigation. There was no medical work-up. All of the people involved are aware of what’s going on. This has not been brought up in court.”
It was revealed that the man called Isaiah a “pretty boy” and made him consume a pill that caused him to become dizzy. Before becoming unconscious, Isaiah reported being sodomized by force. When he woke up, he was extremely sore. The rapist was gone, but Isaiah was surrounded by other people who were laughing. He went the duration of his time in state care trying to block out the incident and did not speak about it until returning to his family.
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18TH BIRTHDAY WON’T LIBERATE ISAIAH
After numerous setbacks and heartbreaks, the Rider family had set their hopes on Isaiah being liberated from state wardship on his eighteenth birthday on August 27th, 2015. Those hopes have been dashed by the recent revelation that Isaiah will remain a ward of of the state of Illinois even after he becomes a legal adult.
“It’s always like a false hope. We keep thinking, surely someone will come to their senses. Surely someone will step in and help us and it doesn’t seem to be happening. Even now. We are finding out that this is going to continue,” Michelle Rider told FOX4KC. “We received word last week from an agent from the state that they don’t have any plans of releasing him on his 18th birthday. They are going to continue to keep him the the custody of Illinois.”
Isaiah said he was in disbelief. “I thought it was crazy really. How can someone control my life when I turn 18 years old?”
Give the hospital and the child-snatching agency appropriate feedback.
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)
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