Mother loses custody, fights medical community
July 15, 2017 at 9:12 p.m.
Updated July 15, 2017 at 9:24 p.m.
A Victoria mother is waging a campaign against the medical community after losing custody of her daughter.
But doctors instead are pointing to a form of medical child abuse called Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
Anita Vasquez, 35, said her daughter's health troubles started in December when her 4-month-old daughter was accidentally injected with an HPV vaccine meant for her son.
Dr. Veronica Guel-Valdivia documented the alleged medical error in the patient's chart and immediately reported it to the vaccine's manufacturer.
Since then, Vasquez has accused several doctors and hospitals of missing or ignoring her baby's symptoms.
Aniya Blu Vasquez, who turns 1 next month, has struggled most of her life with poor weight gain and hyponatremia, or low serum sodium levels. This condition can result in permanent disability or death if left untreated.
After Aniya was hospitalized three times at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, doctors reported Vasquez to the state for Munchausen syndrome by proxy for fabricating or causing an illness in her daughter.
The hospital, which declined to comment because of patient privacy, wrote a letter May 1 to Child Protective Services stating the hospital performed extensive research and testing, and there was no evidence the HPV shot could be causing Aniya to have these symptoms.
A caseworker reported that hospital staff think Vasquez was keeping her daughter sick in order to sue Guel-Valdivia for the accidental injection.
Vasquez adamantly denies she is hurting her daughter and points to a cover-up.
"They want to look at everybody else, but they don't want to look at that vaccine," she said.
Dr. Jaime Fergie, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Driscoll Children's Hospital, said there is no logical reason to think the HPV vaccine would cause Aniya's symptoms.
The non-live vaccine is designed to stimulate the body to produce antibodies that, in future encounters with HPV, bind to the virus and prevent it from infecting cells, he explained.
Dr. Robert Jacobson, a professor of pediatrics and medical director of the primary care immunization program at the Mayo Clinic, said, at worst, the shot would have produced a local irritation or a fever that would have subsided within a matter of days.
The FDA has approved the Gardasil vaccine series for girls and boys as young as age 9 to protect against human papillomaviruses, which cause cancers.
Doctors also have looked into using the vaccine therapeutically for those already experiencing an infection.
Jacobson recalled a case in 2015 in which a group of doctors gave the vaccine series to a toddler as treatment for an HPV-related throat infection.
In that case, there were no harmful effects, he said.
"Many of our vaccines, if we give them too soon, we just don't get a response at all from the baby," he said.
For example, the flu or Hepatitis A vaccines are not given until a certain age because the infant's body seems to ignore it.
Vasquez said she's worried her daughter was overdosed with toxins and metals like aluminum.
However, Jacobson said, while many vaccines use tiny amounts of aluminum to stimulate a response, they contain nowhere near the amount that is normally found in formula or in human breast milk.
Vasquez said she had no objection to vaccines until the accident happened.
Vasquez said she searched during the past seven months for a reason why her daughter didn't cry as much or was twisting her tongue or didn't seem to want her bottle.
"They were making it look like I was crazy and imagining symptoms," Vasquez said.
She held two big binders filled with patient charts and handwritten notes.
She questions why Child Protective Services didn't review all her daughter's medical records before taking action against her.
Vasquez said she tried everything, but her daughter refused to consistently take the bottle.
She said she later learned her daughter also was not receiving enough milk from breastfeeding.
The caseworker's report said she refused to pump at the hospital, and the hospital suspected she was diluting formula.
Vasquez said she tried to give Aniya donated breast milk from a friend, but the hospital would not allow it.
Vasquez said at one point of desperation, she gave her daughter detox capsules she had purchased from an organic foods store.
"I was doing the best thing for Aniya," she said.
She said she believes the medical staff felt threatened because she is a registered nurse and questioned everything.
Vasquez previously worked at a home health company. Her license has stipulations because of an assault conviction for kicking a police officer in the groin. Vasquez said this incident happened during a custody battle with her ex-husband and estranged sister in 2015.
She and her sister also sued each other in small claims court on the Judge Judy TV show that year.
May 1, Texas Children's Hospital initiated a two-week separation to see whether Aniya's condition would improve.
Aniya was placed in foster care and later was put in the custody of her grandmother.
Aniya was doing better until tests showed her sodium levels were still low.
She was flown July 3 via medical helicopter back to the Houston hospital.
Vasquez said she tried to see her daughter, but hospital officials refused her because they thought she still had access to her baby.
An initial permanency hearing is set for Nov. 3.
"Ultimately, I want Aniya back," Vasquez said. "I want her to be well."
Vasquez said she was cooperating with Child Protective Services to regain custody, but she also wants justice.
She has protested outside the Victoria courthouse, lodged numerous official complaints with medical licensing authorities and shared her story with the local TV station and an alternative medicine website known for its anti-vaccine stance.
Caught in crossfire
Flyers and hand-drawn posters warning about Guel-Valdivia are surfacing on drive-thru speakers and gas station pumps.
Guel-Valdivia's attorney declined to comment, but the doctor has many supporters.
Longtime patients of Guel-Valdivia said they are upset by the situation because, despite the alleged medical error, she's known as a good doctor.
Guel-Valdivia has no history of disciplinary action or malpractice, according to the Texas Medical Board.
Investigations are confidential until the board takes final action, but Vasquez provided a letter that shows an investigation was started.
Medical care investigations can take several months depending on the complexity of the case, said Megan Goode, Texas Medical Board communications manager.
"I'm just appalled at her character coming into question," said Patty Janca, whose daughter sees Guel-Valdivia for her prenatal care.
Kelsey Heinold, a registered nurse, said she's known Guel-Valdivia as a patient and professionally for about 15 years.
"It just makes me really sad because Dr. Guel does everything she can for her patients, whether they can pay or not," she said.
Heinold said the doctor gives out her personal phone number and always answers, even while on vacation.
Nathan Green, who used to work as an intensive care unit nurse with Guel-Valdivia, said he thinks spreading misinformation about vaccines is dangerous.
"I can't say what their goal is out of it, but I just think it's slanderous," he said. "I just think it's blown way out of proportion."