Justina Pelletier Spends Father's Day at Home Amid Custody Battle

Her dad claims she can't walk and needs better medical care.

June 16, 2014, 10:36 AM

June 16, 2014— -- Justina Pelletier, the 16-year-old who has been under psychiatric care and in the custody of child welfare authorities in Massachusetts for more than a year, spent Father's Day unsupervised at home in Connecticut as her family awaits a court ruling on whether she can come home for good.

Her father, Lou Pelletier, a financial planner and father of four girls from West Hartford, said the 8-hour visit with his sick daughter was “bittersweet.” The teen cried when she was told she had to go back to a state-run residential facility after dinner, he said.

“It’s just cruel in so many ways,” he told ABC News today. “For somebody to get a taste of freedom and then to know what hell is like because she is told she had got to leave.”

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In May, Justina was moved to the JRI Susan Wayne Center for Excellence in Thompson, Conn., under a plan to eventually reunite with her family, according to the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services.

But recently, according to Pelletier and reported by the Boston Globe, the juvenile court received papers from the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families showing the family had was cooperating with the treatment plan and that custody be returned.

Since February 2013, her parents have waged an angry and highly publicized custody battle for their daughter. They say Justina was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease by a top doctor at Tufts Medical Center, and claim her condition has deteriorated for lack of proper medical treatment.

Lou Pelletier said Justina is still paralyzed below the hips and has a tube in her abdomen that flushes her intestinal tract. The teen is confined to a wheelchair and had to be carried into the house for the visit, he said.

“She needs to be an outpatient and at a physical or occupational therapy facility every day," he said, claiming that Justina currently receives twice-weekly visits from a physical therapist at the Wayne Center, an educational and social services facility funded partially by the state. “It’s just not cutting it.”

David Ball, a spokesman for the Justice Resource Institute, which operates the Wayne Center, said he could not release an update on Justina's health because of privacy laws.

For the last 16 months, a juvenile court judge has sided with Boston Children's Hospital, which was treating the teen for somataform disorder, a psychiatric condition that causes a person to experience physical pain for which no known medical explanation can be found.

In March, Suffolk County Court Judge Joseph Johnston gave the state of Massachusetts permanent custody of Justina until the age of 18, issuing a ruling that chastised her parents and accused them of mismanaging the treatment of their teen.

The four-page ruling slammed the family for verbally abusing hospital caregivers by calling them "Nazis" and accusing them of "kidnapping" and "killing" their daughter, according to a copy obtained by ABC News.

The court has since ordered a new plan to have Justina's former doctor, Mark Korson of Tufts Medical Center, treat her for "persistent and severe somatic symptom disorder," a condition that acknowledges physical as well as psychiatric illness.

Tufts Medical Center spokeswoman Julie Jette confirmed that Justina was receiving care under Korson, but said “beyond that, we are not discussing her case.”

Lou Pelletier said Boston Children’s Hospital is no longer treating Justina, though some of its experts will consult with the Tufts team.

In May, Justina was moved from a residential facility in Framingham, Mass., to the Wayne Center, under the direction of the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services.

"We are confident that we have found the right pathway for Justina to return home as soon as possible so she can continue her strong recovery in Connecticut," HHS secretary John Polanowicz wrote in a letter to the Massachusetts House of Representatives obtained by ABC News at the time. "This is an important step forward in an extremely complex situation. We all want Justina to return soon, and this plan provides a road map to make this happen."

Polanowicz said the teen could return home once her family met certain conditions, which included making weekly visits to the Wayne Center, following the treatment plan outlined by Tufts Medical Center, participating in family therapy and continuing to review her progress with the Department of Children and Families.

Lou Pelletier said Justina should have been home all along, and called DCF’s involvement in her case a “blatant abuse of power” by Boston Children’s Hospital.

“They have permanently crippled my daughter for life,” he said. “This is 16 months of nonsense. I have been yelling it from the mountaintops.”

DCF authorities have not commented on the case, citing confidentiality reasons. Calls and emails Boston Children’s Hospital were not immediately returned.

Lou Pelletier said his family went to see Cirque de Soleil performance and had a family barbecue for Father’s Day. He said Justina remains communicative and is “a real fighter.”

He said he has filed a writ of habeas corpus for wrongful imprisonment in Massachusetts Superior Court, which has not yet been answered, and one appeal in the juvenile appellate court. The paperwork that would allow the juvenile court to return Justina to her family now sits with Judge Joseph Johnson, he said.

“Each day this gets dragged on it makes the likelihood of the damages irreparable,” he said of his daughter’s health. “As a father, it’s horrible watching your daughter physically and mentally tortured.”

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