More than 12 million Americans experience a misdiagnosis each year, a number equivalent to the combined populations of New York and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, that number may be on the low side. It doesn’t account for all the pediatric misdiagnosis that happen every year. There is no institution, organization, or group that tracks that information in children. That could be one reason why the number of misdiagnoses resulting in child abuse claims is believed to be rising.
For one Texas family a misdiagnosis that led to accusations of child abuse sent the Troy family into a three-year battle to reunite their family and clear their names. Now Lorina Troy is telling her story everywhere she can in the hopes of spreading awareness of her family’s situation.
In 2015, Lorina and Jason Troy had their second son, JJ, shortly after moving from California to Texas. When he was born, doctors did not indicate that anything was wrong with JJ. However, soon after taking him home, JJ started vomiting. Lorina also noticed that his head was growing larger than it seemed like it should. She took JJ to their pediatrician, but JJ was merely diagnosed with a stomach flu. But the vomiting didn’t stop.
The Troys took their infant to urgent care centers and eventually a children’s hospital. Finally, doctors did an MRI on JJ and discovered a fluid buildup in his brain. While this can be caused by several medical conditions, it can also be caused by Shaken Baby Syndrome and the doctors immediately decided that JJ was the victim of child abuse.
As a result, JJ and his older brother, Kainoa, were taken from Lorina and Jason by Child Protective Services (CPS) for five months. “A day I would never forget was the day our kids were put in foster care. I sobbed uncontrollably, seeing my boys cry as the officials took them away. I missed my kids every single day. Our house became as quiet as a graveyard.” The boys were returned home but Jason Troy still faced two felony child abuse charges until the third attorney the family talked to in 2017 found the evidence of hydrocephalus in JJ’s medical records from the day he was born.
The Troy family has also gathered media attention and were one of the families featured in Do No Harm, a series of investigations by NBC News and the Houston Chronicle looking at misdiagnoses that lead to unfounded claims of abuse. Lorina and her family are continuing to try and make changes to the laws and procedures so that it can protect families from going through this situation.
Due to the findings of the investigation, the Texas House of Representatives committee that oversees the state’s child welfare system called for a hearing on this issue. Rep. James Frank, the committee chairman, said the investigation exposed serious problems and that the hearing was the first step in coming up with solutions. “We’re here to learn from past mistakes,” Frank said at the start of the hearing, which also featured testimony from child welfare officials, prosecutors and doctors.
Committee members peppered officials with broad questions about the enormous weight given to the opinions of child abuse doctors, and how to weigh child safety against the possibility of an unnecessary removal. The elected officials zeroed in with more targeted questions about the appropriateness of the current legal standards for taking children, the agency’s wildly varying removal rates across the state, and concerns about whether child abuse specialists can accurately evaluate children they didn’t personally examine.
Lorina has said there needs to be more awareness of the dangers of misdiagnosis within all the systems involved, from the medical system to law enforcement, to prevent false charges and wrongful convictions. She also stresses the importance of getting a second opinion, since she and other families she has spoken to were denied another medical opinion on their cases.
“We understand that child abuse happens and we’re against that,” she said. “But there’s also the other side to it, where they quickly assume the worst, remove the children, charge the parents, put them in jail, and it’s just a huge nightmare. If they were to just hire a second medical expert to correctly diagnose the child, and then go from there, it would help so much. That’s why we’re really trying to push for this law to be changed.”
The Troys weren’t the only parents testifying that day. There were other Texas families that had gone through similar situations. In fact, the investigation by NBC News and the Houston Chronicle received hundreds of reports of misdiagnosed child abuse from families all over the country. Since the hearing, Lorina Troy has written a book about the family’s experiences, titled “Miracles of Faith,” and has shared her story with lawmakers and news outlets. Lorina and her family are continuing to try and make changes to the laws and procedures so that it can protect families from going through this situation.