by TLB Contributor Anna Rodgers
”Alex will no longer be treated like an animal or subjected to restraints. He will not be discriminated against. Alex will not be treated as retarded or less than human because he is disabled and cannot speak for himself. He will not be neglected and abused by the medical community anymore.”
This is part of what Dorothy Spourdalakis had written in a note before her suicide attempt in 2013. She and her son’s godmother tried to commit suicide after killing Alex, a severely autistic teenager. Alex was first given a large dose of prescription drugs, but due to his large body weight (he weighed over 200 pounds) it didn’t work. Out of desperation his mother and caretaker ended up stabbing Alex to death.
I know what you are probably thinking. How utterly horrific.
Sometimes there comes along a story so shocking and so tragic you at first think it must be fictitious. That it must be a horror movie. But in this case, it’s not. This did happen. And the timeline of events leading up to this tragedy strongly suggests that the fault lies more with the medical system than the mother.
Alex and Dorothy in happier times. This was prior to his long stint in hospital.
It’s perhaps very easy for us to immediately judge these two women (especially after reading mainstream press reports) as clear cut murderers, however there is so much more to this story. If you have already heard about this case, you may not know all of the reasons behind what drove them to carry out this horrific act. It is, quite simply, a story that cannot truly be understood until you see what this family went through.
Please view the following short trailer from the documentary movie Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis.
Alex in restraints which became very normal for the Chicago teen
Whilst I believe viewing this film is crucial to really understanding what went on, I have highlighted some points to show you the timeline of what happened to Alex.
- Alex born very healthy baby.
- At 18 months he regressed into autism after MMR vaccine.
- Diagnosed with autism at 3.
- Developed gastrointestinal problems.
- Improved after changing diet (eg. removing milk, wheat, and processed foods).
- Doctor told mother to put him back to eating wheat and his previously allergenic foods.
- Soon became very agitated and wouldn’t sit still – his autism worsened.
- Doctors saw him as needing only psychiatric care so put him on Zoloft, Valium, Ritalin, Midazolam. His physical health conditions were ignored.
- Medication made him stay awake most of the time.
- Starts to physically lash out at family and therapists.
- Doctors then put him on antipsychotics which he had a serious reaction to.
- Doctors kept putting him on new antipsychotic drugs.
- Started to be regularly admitted to hospital – in the psychiatric ward, not general ward.
- Alex discharged, started to become very aggressive, destroying the house – including ripping out ceiling fan fixtures. Was extremely violent to his mother and godmother. Kicked Dorothy in the hip.
- Alex went to hospital and was restrained to the bed by cuffs.
- Alex became very violent during car rides, shoving Dorothy’s head into steering wheel while driving.
- Finally a doctor ordered a CT scan of Alex’s colon. He was found to have ulcerative colitis – a painful condition involving inflammation and often cysts of the colon and rectum. But doctor dismissed it as “not being serious enough” to have treatment for.
- Other antipsychotics were then given to Alex and recommended to go to psychiatric hospital.
- Dorothy unable to cope with what was happening.
- Alex became so violent it once took ten men to help him get upstairs. Then he damaged the house and had to go back to psychiatric ward.
- Doctors wanted him to go to psychiatric hospital permanently but none would take him.
- New antipsychotics were given to him; Alex’s condition worsened.
- Alex was given anti seizure drug Topiramate (check out the incredibly long list of adverse effects here) but Alex did not have a seizure disorder.
- Alex started to see a gastrointestinal specialist who wanted to do an endoscopy. The doctor wrote, “The mother seems to be at her wits end.” Another GI specialist said Alex’s gastro problems needed extensive investigative help.
- Doctors at the hospital said Alex’s mental condition should be treated first and dismissed his gastro problems.
- Doctors were shown studies and articles about the autism connection to gastro problems. All were ignored.
- Dorothy, desperate for help, started to reach out to some autism websites.
- Age Of Autism wrote a story about Alex’s story showing picture of him in hospital with restraints.
- The Autism Team became involved. They started video documenting what the medical system was doing to Alex.
- Family recommended (by an outsider from hospital) to visit a pediatric gastrointestinal specialist, Dr. Arthur Krigsman in New York.
- Alex given a “bowel clearance” by Dr Krigsman before his procedure – he slept for 14 hours, the best sleep Alex had had in years.
- Procedure showed Alex had a large amount of ulcers and nodules in his bowels.
- After being restrained and drugged so much – Alex begins to be very scared of hospitals and ambulances. Dorothy starts texting people saying they are exhausted and don’t know what to do.
- Dr. Krigsman put Alex on appropriate medication to help with his ulcers. But Dorothy also had to comply with psychiatrist’s instructions to keep dosing Alex with antipsychotics.
- May 2013: Doctors in the hospital said Alex had to soon go to a psychiatric hospital – where his mother would only be able to visit him once a month. Alex would be there for the rest of his life – restrained and drugged. She said that if this happened “everything would be over.”
- Text from Dorothy May 22: “There is no hope, he is suffering the unimaginable.”
- No hospital wanted to take him.
- Insurance firm said they had to leave the hospital.
- Alex discharged despite hospital violating many parts of the EMTALA act.
- Dorothy couldn’t cope at home – Alex was out of control.
- Alex had been restrained for a total of 70 days.
- In June Dorothy and Jolanta gave Alex an overdose which failed, then they stabbed him to death and tried to commit suicide which also failed.
- Prior to Alex’s death Dorothy had also begun taking antidepressants which had side effect of eliciting violent and suicidal tendencies.
- Both are now in jail on murder charges.
The System Let This Family Down
This is really a story about a medical system that did not provide the correct care for this young teen. The system only looked at one part of his condition. This is about what can happen to a mother who sees her child being treated worse than an animal in a place that is supposed to help people. Alex was treated more for psychiatric conditions rather than his actual physical ailments, and the many different types of psychotropic medications he was prescribed ending up causing his health and mental condition to worsen drastically. This is also about what happens when medical insurance runs out and when a family’s money dries up, leaving a life in psychiatric care, constantly restrained and drugged, as the only alternative.
Would this be okay for a dog, let alone your own child?
This case is, sadly, not rare. Many other mothers have killed their autistic children because they could not look after them anymore. (1) (2) (3) (4)
While many say, “but they didn’t have to murder Alex,” after viewing this film, you might change your mind, seeing a lack of compassion and cruelty at the hands of the medical system as the culprits rather than the mother and godmother. You may in fact see the desperation these women felt, believing that the only way to end Alex’s suffering and save him from a far crueler fate was to end his life.
One of the most tragic parts of this case was that shortly before Alex’s death, the mother found someone who knew how to help Alex, yet the hospital back in Chicago made Alex continue to take psychiatric medication that was clearly not working for him. Now that is cruel. Alex’s mother did not want this at all, but she had to comply because the doctors can override a parent’s wishes anytime they want to.
It’s very easy to judge a situation like this, but unless you are living it, what you think you “may” have done can differ drastically from what you actually would have done. You never really know until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes.
What Is Going To Happen To All Of The Autistic Children?
If the proper facilities had been available for Alex, he would still be alive today. With many children today also being severely autistic, and some experts, such as Stephanie Seneff (a senior research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) predicting that one in every two children by 2025 will be autistic – the future for these families and their children is very frightening indeed.
And what about the financial strain it can cause on a family? According to a study by Autism Speaks, the average cost for looking after one autistic child during their lifetime costs a family between 1.4 – 2.4 million dollars. If the medical community does not start treating them for their physical conditions (and it is important to note that most autistic children often have bowel disorders triggering their behavioural problems), they are sure to end up going down the same road as Alex, being treated psychiatrically rather than medically and therefore never truly getting better. And with the obvious cruelty inherent in this course of action, how many families will be able to – or not able to – handle it when it happens to their own child?
In honour of Alex’s memory The Alex Spourdalakis Recovery Centre will be built in Austin Texas.
”It broke my soul. It’s really hard to find the words. It may be the worst, saddest story I have ever seen. Everybody should see it, even if you can’t stand to see it.” – Celia Farber, Investigative Journalist, after viewing the film.
Watch & Share Alex’s Story
I really hope that you will take the time to view this movie. It raises such important issues. I will warn you, it’s not an easy film to watch at times. What the medical system did to Alex is beyond chilling, and you can clearly see it. You can see it in Alex’s eyes and his shocking change of behavior and how it all served to wear down the strength of his mother and godmother, bit by bit.
When it comes to Alex’s mother, I personally saw nothing in her but love, and at the end, pure desperation – she just could not handle seeing her son being treated like he was. Dorothy knew that she had nowhere to turn and Alex would never receive the correct medical care he deserved.
Our medical system needs a huge shakeup if we are to help these autistic children in the way that they need.
TLB recommends you visit The Pause for more great articles and pertinent information.