Two daughters, two deaths, two forms of denialism

ostrich burying head in sand ignoring problems

Denialism kills.

Christine Maggiore was in prime form, engaging and articulate, when she explained to a Phoenix radio host in late March why she didn’t believe HIV caused AIDS.

The HIV-positive mother of two laid out matter-of-factly why, even while pregnant, she hadn’t taken HIV medications, and why she had never tested her children for the virus.

“Our children have excellent records of health,” Maggiore said on the Air America program when asked about 7-year-old Charlie and 3-year-old Eliza Jane Scovill. “They’ve never had respiratory problems, flus, intractable colds, ear infections, nothing. So, our choices, however radical they may seem, are extremely well-founded.”

Seven weeks later, Eliza Jane was dead. She died of AIDS related pneumonia in May 2005.

Denialism kills. Don’t let your children be victims.

Maggiore had a homebirth with Eliza because no doctor would care for her unless she agreed to take medication to prevent the transmission of AIDS to her unborn child. She was counseled not to breastfeed Eliza, but she did so, and published pictures of herself breastfeeding Eliza to show her confidence in her belief that HIV does not cause AIDS. She never allowed Eliza to be tested for HIV, because she felt that there was “no need”.

After her daughter’s death, Maggiore acknowledged that she never mentioned her HIV status, and the fact that her daughter was almost certainly HIV positive, because she did not want doctors to “discriminate” against her daughter. Although the autopsy report and the slides of the pathology examination were released publicly, Maggiore insisted that Eliza died of an anaphylactic reaction to antibiotics, not of pneumocystis pneumonia.

Christine Maggiore was responsible for her daughter’s death. Her denialism was more important to her than her daughter’s life.

Carsyn Leigh Davis, 17, died of COVID-19 last month for the same reason. Her parents’ denialism was more important to them than their daughter’s life.

Carsyn had a complex medical history and was immunocompromised.

No matter. Her mother posted a stream of denialist nonsense on Twitter:

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Not surprisingly, she was also an anti-vaxxer:

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How did Carsyn get COVID-19? Her parents sent her to this party at her church.

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Her mother sent her to the party despite the fact that Carsyn had just about every possible risk factor for COVID death that any white teen could have. She had fought cancer, neurologic disease and was obese.

When she got sick, her parents (a nurse and a physician’s assistant) treated her with hydroxychloroquine. When she had trouble breathing, they gave her her grandfather’s supplemental oxygen.

It wasn’t enough. Only then did her parents seek medical care for her.

She was treated in a pediatric ICU:

Carsyn’s parents declined to have her intubated, and she instead started receiving plasma therapy, the report said. But by June 22, her condition wasn’t improving and “intubation was required,” the medical examiner wrote.

Despite “aggressive therapy and maneuvers,” Carsyn still didn’t get better, leading Brunton Davis to request “heroic efforts” even knowing that her daughter “had low chance of meaningful survival,” according to the report.

She died shortly after on June 23, twelve days after the “release party”, and only two days after her 17th birthday.

Why do denialists deny?

…[D]enialism is based on irrational and illogical thinking. Denialists do not generate new information to refute scientific claims. To the contrary, they ignore established knowledge, and distort reality to support a preconceived ideology. Denialism is grounded in rhetorical tactics that are designed to give the appearance of a debate among experts, when in actuality there is none. In fact, denialists manufacture doubt by identifying any sign of disagreement among scientists at any point in history and use that false reality to claim that the evidence is inconclusive… Discarding the objectivity and logic of science, denialists use emotionally charged assertions.

Why do some people become denialists?

Psychologically, denial is a natural coping response to threatening and traumatic experiences. It is a buffering mechanism that gives a person time to adjust before facing the threat. Denialism exploits denial as a coping response by offering an escape from the threat.

Paradoxically, those most vulnerable to the threat — like Eliza Scovill’s mother and Carsyn Davis’ parents — are most susceptible to denialism. Rather than cope with fear of severe, they deny that severe illness is even a possibility.

Do denialists ever learn?

Christine Maggiore didn’t. In December 2008 Christine Maggiore died of AIDS related pneumonia. To the very end she insisted that HIV does not cause AIDS and refused the medications that could have saved her life.

It remains to be seen whether Carsyn Davis’ parents will learn from their daughter’s death. That would require accepting responsibility for their role in causing it and I suspect that won’t be happening any time soon.

Denialism kills. Don’t let your children be victims.

  • Who?

    Off topic, midwives charged after a home birth gone wrong, from Australia:

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-14/midwives-charged-with-manslaughter-over-caroline-lovell-death/12560114

    • Griffin

      Frickin’ EIGHT years after the poor woman died!

    • PeggySue

      I saw this, and imagining the mother, clearly knowing how ill she was, begging for help, only to be denied, deeply disturbing. Are these the same horrid women who told her husband that at least she had a beautiful natural birth?

  • Ayr

    Ugh!!! Why oh why would you let an immuno-compromised child to a party? And why give her something that may or may not help with the symptoms of COVID-19, when you are supposed to be a health professional and know that prescriptions should not shared! Especially something like Plaquenil! Those parents should be locked up for negligence. As for the other mother she was just a complete idiot, totally in denial about her own condition, and too blind to see it her daughter.

  • Heidi

    I received the worst call of my life just this Saturday morning. My 25 year old sister was found non-responsive on the beach (not a crowded, busy beach. Not a beach party to be very clear.). She had gone down there to probably watch the waves. She was the only person there, but some folks on a boat noticed her at some point and called 911. She could not get into a decent hospital because the Texas/Louisiana area hospitals can’t take any more patients. The tiny 3 bed hospital she was in had no clue what to think, they suspected alcohol poisoning even though her BAC was no where near that. Her BAC suggested she had 3 drinks. Thankfully she had seen a neurologist from a large city a few months back who was able to get her bed in a real hospital. It was covid-19. My healthy, NO pre-existing, no high risk factor sister was a hair away from dying. If she hadn’t gone to the beach and stayed in her home, her boyfriend would have probably found her dead. If she hadn’t been able to get to a good hospital, she might be dead. Worst time of my life! And I imagine even worse for my sister. I thought I was going to lose her and I still don’t know what her future holds, but I am so glad she has woken up and is alive.

    • MaineJen

      Oh my god!! I’m so sorry. Did she have any symptoms at all before going unconscious on the beach??

      • Heidi

        A month ago she texted me she had a fever, chest congestion and said she thought she was dying. I asked her if she was going to the doctor and she said she was waiting to hear back from HR. I’m guessing they didn’t require she get tested nor quarantine so she went back to work in a double wide trailer with 50 people in it. She evidently felt fine after a day or two. So I believe she could have very well had it for a month or more and it just snuck up on her like that. I don’t know. There’s so much about this we don’t know. But she has either pneumonia or covid lung, I know they’re looking at the possibility of DVT or pulmonary embolism. Her CT scan showed extreme weakness. She wasn’t able to even talk for over a day. She was on a ventilator at the small hospital but I think her breathing is fine and they didn’t bother to re-intubate her after she extubated herself when she was confused. The people that initially found her thought she didn’t have a pulse so started chest compressions. EMT said it was 69 but we didn’t have all that info at first and feared she may have been dead for some time and worried obviously.

        • Heidi

          And I found out my cousin is working in a similar situation here in Tennessee. In an office setting where 4 people have gotten positive results yet all they’re doing is sending the positive people home for 2 weeks instead of having everyone exclusively work from home. I am so angry and sad.

          • PeggySue

            This is terrifying. I am so sorry it is happening in your family. I hope your sister pulls through; can’t imagine the stress you are feeling. So sick of the way this is being handled here in the States.

          • Heidi

            She is talking now. I think we’re out of the woods so to speak. But I just feel like I’m watching a train wreck getting ready to happen a few miles back and no one is listening. Because there are and will be people who don’t get found or who don’t get into hospitals or who just can’t be saved even with every resource. There are going to be people die of car wrecks, heart attacks, overdoses and any number of things because hospitals are going to be too overwhelmed with covid. I am not even able to fathom what our post-covid world is going to look like. I feel like this is the tip of the iceberg.

          • PeggySue

            I pray it is not that bad, but I do think you are right. In the States, it is the chance, which will be very unpopular, to pivot to some different priorities for decision-making — just don’t know. I am older and asthmatic, thus per many a “throwaway” life or someone who “was going to die anyway, just maybe sooner.” It’s a very surreal position. I am so grateful to hear that your sister is getting better. I hope she is out of the woods and will recover fully!

          • Heidi

            Please stay safe! It’s so sad. I can’t get over the inconsistencies some people are having in regards to whose life is valuable.

        • MaineJen

          WHOA

    • Heidi

      The small hospital was going to take 3 days to get the covid test back. The large hospital got the positive result by Sunday. So I shudder to think where we’d be at the tiny hospital. The doctor was very clear they didn’t have the resources to treat my sister and that she REALLY needed to be a larger hospital. I know doctors, nurses and first responders are going to have PTSD after this. How helpless and scared you’d have to feel seeing people die just because of a lack of resources because we didn’t slow down the spread after all.

  • rational thinker

    Wow, Its really amazing that she rationalizes the idiocy displayed by the POTUS on national television as a genius way to get doctors to admit that vaccines are bad. I guess she does not know that the human body naturally produces formaldehyde and most vaccines don’t even contain Thimerosal anymore. They really will make up any excuse to cover up for that orange moronic piece of shit.
    The thing that scares me the most is the possibility of him being re-elected. This country is barely surviving one term of this asshole. I don’t know how we would survive another.

  • fiftyfifty1

    Ugh. AIDS denialism killed a family member of mine. He refused testing until he developed an AIDS defining infection. Even then he refused treatment, citing all of these quacks. He was really wasting away, skin and bones. His mother begged and begged and finally got him to try combo anti-retroviral therapy. The results were like a miracle. His viral count went to undetectable. His white count rebounded. He restored back up to his healthy weight. He no longer had night sweats and he had his energy back. But he still didn’t believe it and he stopped the meds and died of cocci of the brain a few months later. This was 20 years ago, and there are family members who still aren’t over the trauma of watching this shit show. I’m still angry about it.

    • rational thinker

      That is just horrible, sorry for your loss.

    • PeggySue

      oh my word. That is the worst of the worst. I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how his mother feels. I can’t imagine how on earth he held onto the denialism and what he thought he would lose if he gave that up. I’d be angry too.

      • fiftyfifty1

        Yeah, I still wonder about that. Some family members thought it was maybe internalized homophobia or something, but that can’t explain all of AIDS denialists because Maggiore was a straight woman presumably. Whatever it is, it must be incredibly strong if you are willing to die for the idea. So strong that even when you have personal proof the meds work you refuse to believe your own eyes. There is a Paul Simon song with a line that goes “Proof is the bottom line for everyone” and I always think “Like hell it is.”

        • Who?

          Terrible story.

          Whenever I hear something like that I wonder what amazing good he could have done in the world with such strong belief in himself. And then I wonder what drives an incapacity to doubt.

          Either way, torture for all concerned, probably including his doctors who had to watch him die.

        • rational thinker

          I dont know if social stigma had something to do with it for people like your family member but being in high school in the 90’s I did notice something they taught us. It seemed like they wanted us to think about Aids in one particular way. The way to think was this, it was only okay to have sympathy for an aids patient or it was only ok to have aids yourself if it was from a blood transfusion and therefore not your fault. There was a kid in our class and his uncle had aids and his uncle was brought up as as an example a lot because his uncle got it from a transfusion therefore not his fault so it was ok to feel sorry for him. That was an extremely fucked up thing to teach kids in high school.

  • Mel

    The medical examiner’s report is terrifying.

    On June 19th, Carsyn was napping and “looked gray” according to her mom. Her mom checked Carsyn’s oxygen saturation and found it to be in the 40’s, gave 5L/min supplemental oxygen and her O2 sats rose into the 60’s .

    That’s one of those signs that you need to call an ambulance unless you can physically get to an ER faster in a car – not a time to dose your kid with a drug shown not to work for COVID.

    The family declined intubation for three days while allowing plasma therapy. Is that because plasma therapy sounds more woo-ish than letting your kid breathe?

    When she was finally intubated, it was way too late and they could only get a max oxygen saturation in the 70’s. For comparison sake, my extremely premature son never had a max oxygen saturation under 90. I don’t really want to know how low her O2 sats were dipping.

    Then, after having kept doctors from intubating her for three days, the mother request heroic measures with a very low chance of survival so her daughter is transferred to a different hospital and attached to an ECMO – but her heart and blood pressure are failing and she dies the next afternoon.

    The mom’s description of her daughter not crying, complaining or saying she was afraid has a very different feel to me. You can only cry, complain or express fear when you have enough energy to do so…..

    • PeggySue

      It is terrifying. And, yeah, you have to have energy to cry out, and also a brain that has not been damaged from hanging out with insufficient oxygen.

  • Mel

    My three year old is pretty solidly healthy now after a rough start due to prematurity.

    I still kept him in lockdown from when schools in Michigan shut down until early June when we were able to get some outpatient PT and speech. Once in a blue moon, he goes grocery shopping with me – but only when I know the number of people in the store is going to be low.

    He wears a mask. Spawn’s not big on change – but I explained to him that little babies can’t wear mask – but big boys and adults can wear masks. Did he want to wear a big boy mask? He most certainly did – and gives the funniest superior looks to babies.

    Four months in the NICU plus a year of medical equipment at home was plenty for our family, thank you. We mask early, often and are being as socially reclusive as we can get away with.

    I can’t even imagine being so careless with your child’s life – especially when your kid has a complex medical history.

    • rational thinker

      I hear a lot of parents complaining about their child having to wear a mask, even older children. Mostly its anti-vaxxers and the entitled snowflake crowd.

      My severely autistic daughter wears a mask for long periods of time, and she has always had problems with anyone even touching her face. I cant even brush her teeth, she has to go to the hospital every two years to be put under and get everything fixed. If she can wear a mask than (mostly) anyone can wear a mask.

  • demodocus

    Poor girls

    School is essential, groceries are essential, church parties are not.

  • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

    This is THE most chilling thing about the whole story of Carson Leigh Davis:
    “her parents (a nurse and a physician’s assistant) ” These people are health care providers!! and apparently at leat the mother is an anti-vaxxer?! how are these people allowed to treat patients?

    • The Kids Aren’t AltRight

      I know! How are they treating other people if this is how they treat their own daughter!

      • PeggySue

        It seems like both families described held in common the attitude that “they knew better” and could not fathom when reality intruded. The inability to see, in a family member, symptoms that would be glaringly clear in a non-family member, is very common, though. I saw it so often in health care providers when a family member would come into the acute palliative unit where I worked. The family member might look absolutely awful, but the relatives were often taken aback by the urgency of the team’s response, even though they were very good medical providers. Something about the family relationship…

    • PeggySue

      Can a physician assistant prescribe the medicines that she was given? That would answer the question of where the medicines came from, not that it was appropriate to prescribe for her…

      These people really thought they knew it all, didn’t they? And their daughter likely suffered, and suffered a lot, before she died.

      • Gene

        Depending on your state, your license allows you to prescribe to family. I occasionally prescribe for my family (albuterol, antibiotics), but will not prescribe anything I consider dangerous or potentially addictive. I cannot (and will not) prescribe schedule 2 drugs like OxyContin or Adderral.

        • PeggySue

          I kind of thought maybe one CAN prescribe to family, and your approach, Gene, seems eminently sensible. One would think that prescribing for a reportable disease might not be so sensible, and prescribing medications of dubious effectiveness also.

  • PeggySue

    Cold chills. I believe that the Davis family has other children as well? And I wonder if the church has tested the other kids who attended the youth event? When I saw the story yesterday, I noted at least two gofundme accounts raising money for the Davis family. Poor girls, both of these.

    • rational thinker

      I hope the go fund me stuff gets reported and taken down. If the parents really are healthcare workers I hope they both are fired immediately. If there are other children in the home CPS should remove them immediately.