Depending on the witness, Linda Pelletier has been portrayed either as a persistent, attentive and intensely devoted caregiver to her sickly daughter or a domineering, disruptive parent out to dictate the girl’s medical diagnoses and treatment.
On Wednesday, three weeks into the Pelletiers’ closely watched medical malpractice case against Boston Children’s Hospital, jurors finally heard from Justina Pelletier’s mother.
As relations between Pelletier’s parents and her medical team at the pediatric hospital grew increasingly volatile and bitter, doctors in 2011 began to believe that Linda and Lou Pelletier’s decision-making and judgment were not in their daughter’s best interest.
The state Department of Children and Families stepped in, took custody of their 14-year-old daughter, and held her in a locked psychiatric unit at the hospital. She remained there for the better part of a year.
In her testimony Wednesday in Suffolk Superior Court, Linda Pelletier disputed much of what doctors had written, described, or quoted her as saying before and during her daughter’s stay.
The Pelletiers are suing the hospital and four doctors and other caregivers with whom they butted heads over their daughter’s diagnosis and treatment.
After the forced separation from her parents, Justina Pelletier, now 21, remains emotionally scarred and fearful of doctors, they allege. The hospital’s neurologist, psychologist, psychiatrist, and a former pediatrician there were negligent in ignoring treatment plans from Justina Pelletier’s previous doctors at Tufts Medical Center, the lawsuit says.
Linda Pelletier testified that she did not discharge her daughter from past hospitals against medical advice. She did not refuse inpatient psychiatric care, she said. Nor did she tell a hospital social worker that she was overwhelmed caring for her elderly mother and would be unable to care for her daughter at home “in her current state.”
Doctors noted that when Linda Pelletier was present, her daughter’s condition would seemingly worsen — she would become more infantile and introverted, urinate on herself, and complain of pain.
Linda Pelletier tended to fixate on her belief that none of the hospital staff understood her daughter’s condition, which she insisted was mitochondrial disease, or believed her pain was real, doctors wrote at the time.
Despite medical records to the contrary, Linda Pelletier insisted she did not discharge her daughter from Connecticut Children’s Hospital against medical advice only to turn around and return with her a day later, prompting the visit to Boston Children’s Hospital.
“I believe that is incorrect,” Linda Pelletier said. “I always did what they told me to do.”
When testimony turned toward Feb. 14, 2013, the day the Pelletiers were escorted off hospital property and told not to return, Linda Pelletier’s tone turned testy and tearful.
“I was in shock that the whole thing happened the way it did," she said.
After demanding that their daughter be discharged that day, Lou and Linda Pelletier summoned police to the hospital.
Linda Pelletier said as many as 15 uniformed guards descended upon the unit, with five hovering over her and her daughter.
When pressed under cross-examination about the exact number, she said she couldn’t be sure. There were at least 10 guards, she said. She couldn’t count them all.
“I’m telling you the truth. It was a lot," Linda Pelletier said. “It was overwhelming. It was a really hard time. I was very overwhelmed and very hurt."
Her pinched face reddened as tears turned into sobs, silent at first, then audible.
“I don’t know," Linda Pelletier testified. "It hurt me, and it hurt my daughter.”
She held her face in both hands, shoulders heaving, before leaving the stand.