A woman has been accused of pretending to be a doctor during her son’s cancer treatments, but he did not have the disease at all. She claimed to be a physician so her then-3-year-old son could receive unnecessary hospital care and be given opioids.
Monika Burgett “became a member of the health care team,” as her child was admitted to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Dr. Robert Shapiro testified in trial on Tuesday. During this time, the boy was treated with drugs that included Oxycodone and methadone.
Eventually, other doctors became suspicious of Burgett’s credentials and reported suspected child abuse to Hamilton County Job and Family Services.
But the 39-year-old mother’s alleged deception goes further than the hospital. She convinced family members, including her husband and sister, that she was a doctor.
“They believed it for many years,” said Assistant Prosecuter Anne Flanagan during the trial’s opening statements.
The mother also joined a blog group for mothers who are health care physicians, then expanded her online efforts to help her son, who she claimed had cancer. She started two GoFundMe pages to help financially support her son’s battle with a brain tumor. The pages collected roughly $40,000, according to Flanagan’s statements.
To raise money, Burgett allegedly had her young son’s head and eyebrows shaved, then took photos to post alongside the fundraising pages. If convicted, all the people Burgett misled will have their money refunded.
Based on Burgett's claims, her husband and others thought “that this little boy had cancer and was terminal,” Flanagan said. And the mother’s reports of false symptoms led to “unnecessary and excessive treatment.”
“This little… child was living a life of sedation — of tubes stuck in his face and nose, tubes in his intestines and stomach,” Flanagan continued.
While the boy may not have terminal cancer, he did have some serious health issues, including a genetic disorder which caused a growth inside his mouth. Once properly diagnosed, doctors developed authorized treatment plans for the condition.
Burgett’s attorney, M.J. Hugan, cites these health concerns as the woman’s motivation.
“What she was trying to do, is get care — get the right care for her child," Hugan said in opening statements. “At some point, she adopted the idea that she was a physician.”
Burgett’s trial is ongoing, but she’s charged with child abuse, felonious assault and telecommunications fraud.