DES MOINES, Iowa — The arrest of an Atlantic woman accused of faking her five-year-old daughter’s cancer has people questioning whether this was an elaborate hoax, or a rare psychological condition.
It was because of people, often complete strangers, donating their time and money that Chris and Angie Allen of Ankeny were able to spend time with their dying five-year-old son, Bradley. Bradley passed last year after a long fight with cancer. His final months were happy ones because of the kindness of others. That’s why the Allens can’t understand why anyone would take advantage of that kindness.
“I just can’t imagine why somebody would do that,” Chris Allen says, “What goes through their mind to want to fabricate a story first of all. And all the thinking that would have to go into it to execute it. And to not feel guilty about all the people who you betrayed.”
The answer might be a rare psychological condition called Munchausen by Proxy. That’s where someone, generally a parent, will fake a child’s illness. It’s not delusional, and people with the condition don’t actually believe the child is sick, but sometimes they get wrapped up in that fantasy.
“Certainly for some people it means sympathy, consideration, if you’re believed to have a physical illness, people don’t expect as much of you. You’re let out of work. People come around and try to help, things like that,” says Mercy Hospital Psychiatrist Dr. James Dennert.
Dennert says it’s hard to say whether that was the case with Leatha Slauson, allegedly faking her five-year-old daughter’s illness. He says, this could be a case of malingering, where a person fakes an illness for financial gain. “The fact that there’s money involved certainly raises the question of malingering of a scam. A lot of patients with Munchausen, Munchausen by proxy, there isn’t money involved,” Dennert says.
Either way, the Allens say, seeing someone allegedly take advantage of someone else’s generosity, especially like this, hurts. “The biggest part of me feels anger towards her for all the people she’s deceived and put a bad name towards people that actually need help,” Chris Allen says, “But the other part of me says, gosh, what would make somebody think like that. I, I hope she gets the help she needs.”