Sophie Hartman, 31, has been shuttling her adopted daughter to and from the hospital for years, but it’s not clear if there was anything wrong with her in the first place. Now, Hartman has been arrested after providers became suspicious that she was forcing medically invasive procedures on her daughter for financial gain.
The Need for Surgery
Authorities in Seattle, Washington believe Hartman has been subjecting her six-year-old adopted daughter from Zambia to medically unnecessary procedures since she was two. Hartman claims her daughter, who has only been identified as C.H., suffers from a rare neurological disorder known as alternating hemiplegia of childhood (AHC).
Records show the child was forced to wear leg braces, use a wheelchair, and use a feeding tube. Court documents say she also had a tube inserted to help her go to the bathroom and flush out her intestines.
Authorities estimate C.H. has been subjected to at least 470 medically unnecessary procedures over the last several years.
Hartman is now facing second-degree charges for assault of a child and attempted assault of a child.
The investigation began after Dr. Rebecca Wiester, director of the Seattle Children’s Hospital, wrote a letter to the authorities asking them to investigate the matter, which was co-signed by other physicians on the floor.
“It is not necessary to know the possible motivation of a caregiver, only the outcome of the behavior,” she wrote, adding that the child was at “profound risk.”
Prosecutors also say Hartman was inquiring about a hormone drug that could suppress early onset puberty. In March, providers told Hartman that her daughter didn’t need to use leg braces or a wheelchair, but she continued to force her to use them, according to the allegations. Hartman said her daughter suffered from seizures, but her doctors say they never saw evidence of this.
Hartman was charged shortly after C.H. underwent a 16-day observation for a range of health ailments. During the observation, the girl was able to eat and go to the bathroom on her own.
“At no point during her admission were there any findings or reported symptoms to support any of her prior diagnoses,” court documents said. “All the available evidence obtained during the course of her admission suggests C.H. is a healthy young 6-year-old who would continue to benefit from de-escalation of medical support and normalization of her childhood experience.”
Confusion or Deliberate Harm
Hartman has a history of portraying herself as a selfless mother. In 2019, she went on-air to talk about her decision to adopt two sisters from Zambia, adding that one of them suffered from AHC.
“I know she’s walking right now, but she was literally paralyzed all day yesterday,” Hartman said at the time.
C.H. was granted a wish from the Make-a-Wish foundation in 2019. Now that the charges against Hartman have been made public, the organizers say they are dismayed by the allegations.
“This is a very serious allegation, and any threat to the wellbeing of a child is not in alignment with the child-centered focus of our mission,” the foundation said in a statement. “We hope this matter is quickly remedied in the best interest of the child.”
Hartman’s attorney, Adam Shapiro, is fighting back against the charges, saying, “The doctor from Seattle Children’s Hospital who’s largely behind the charges for this case is not an expert on this disease.”
“Contrary to the allegations of the King County Prosecuting Attorney, the child’s diagnosis was made by more than one doctor, is legitimate, and is based on a substantial record beyond the reports and information provided by Ms. Hartman,” the attorney added.
“That record includes independent medical examinations by multiple doctors, direct observation of the child by doctors and nurses at Duke and at Seattle Children’s Hospital, standardized testing results, videotapes of the child’s symptoms, MRI, EEG and other diagnostic tests. The King County Prosecuting Attorney has the medical records from Duke, as well as records from Seattle Children’s Hospital, amply supporting the diagnosis and the consistent reports of Ms. Hartman.”
However, the authorities have evidence to suggest Hartman was motivated by greed and a fear of losing her child.
While taking her daughter to and from the hospital, Hartman allegedly told someone that C.H. could “leave us anytime.” Police also raided her internet search history to find phrases such as “funeral songs” and “How to get paid to take care of a family member with a disability.”
Hartman organized several fundraisers on her daughter’s behalf. “For us, this is what life looks like. It’s navigating constant traumatic chaos, making plans that will inevitably fall through and battling resentment and bitterness for all that is outside of our control,” Hartman said during one of the events.
“Moreover, fundraisers were carried out around this time and the defendant used fundraiser funds to purchase a wheelchair accessible vehicle,” court documents said.
It’s disturbing to think that a parent would have anything but their child’s best interest at heart; the jury is still out on whether Hartman was intentionally hurting her daughter or if she just didn’t understand the treatment process.