Frawley specified a total of about twelve hours per week during which Theda was permitted to visit Christian while "supervised" by hospital staff. Dawan was not to be present during Theda's visits, the judge stipulated.

Theda, meanwhile, launched her own offensive. She made several calls to a hotline at the Missouri Department of Social Services (MDSS), alleging abuse and neglect. Records indicate that she referred to Dawan as "a compulsive liar" and asserted that he "should have responded quicker" to Christian's emergency.

The agency briefly examined the incident, including Dawan's statements to hospital staff that the flu was going around the Ferguson household the week that Christian fell ill. Geneticist Dorothy Grange told a state social worker she found his explanation plausible.

His life has been dominated by a contentious custody battle, but Connor Ferguson, now fourteen, has happy memories of his older brother.
Jennifer Silverberg
His life has been dominated by a contentious custody battle, but Connor Ferguson, now fourteen, has happy memories of his older brother.
Christian, here in an undated photo, went missing just after sunrise on June 11, 2003.
Christian, here in an undated photo, went missing just after sunrise on June 11, 2003.

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View home movies of Christian and his brother Connor and a news report about Christian's rare illness. DailyRFT.com
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Reads the MDSS report: "Dr. Grange is aware of the events leading to hospitalization and did not feel that Mr. F had been neglectful."

MDSS did not open an investigation into Theda's allegations.

It was not the first time. By the time of Christian's coma, the state had received at least ten "hotline" calls about the Ferguson household. Theda Thomas says she made most of those calls. (A hospital social worker made at least one.) Records show the agency deemed eight of the ten calls "harassment."

Some of the calls coincided with four separate hospital admissions for Christian at Cardinal Glennon in 2000.

In March that year, hospital records show, Christian appeared at the ER dehydrated and smelling of ammonia. "Christian was reportedly without his sodium benzoate medication for at least two days in the week prior to admission, because his father was unable to obtain the medication from their local pharmacy," Dr. Grange would write in her clinical report. "Questions were raised regarding medication compliance and father was made aware of the necessity for strict compliance.... He was instructed to call Dr. Grange is [sic] he was unable to obtain medications rather than wait for symptoms to begin."

Two months later Christian was hospitalized after falling out of his chair at school. "The patient had missed his medication for the two days prior to admission...," Dr. Grange's report notes. "The father was informed to have his medications filled ahead of time, and instructed not to skip any doses."

Thomas lobbied other agencies to investigate how Christian ended up in a coma, including the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department's Child Abuse/Sex Crimes unit. A subsequent police report notes that detectives had gathered information from Theda but did not launch an inquiry.

Thomas also took up picketing again, outside the hospital and the courthouse.

Christian's coma persisted nearly a month. He emerged in February 2001 severely brain damaged and from then on would struggle to perform the most basic functions: He wore a diaper. Unable to swallow properly, he required a surgically implanted feeding tube. Though he regained his ability to walk after two months of physical therapy, he could no longer speak.

On June 17, 2001, Christian was discharged from rehab and went home to his father. Two days later Thomas penned a letter to Judge Frawley declaring that she was relinquishing her visitation rights with both sons.

"I care not to watch you allow my son's health to deteriorate," she wrote. "You would, evidently, rather keep my children in their abuser's custody in order to hide the mistakes and damages that you have caused and allowed instead of forgetting your pride and owning up to your errors in judgements [sic]. By failing to do what is just and allowing these acts of neglect, you along with the [MDSS] Division of Family Services, Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital and the Police Department have proven to be just as abusive to my children as their father."

Thomas closed with, "Please add this letter to the record."


Theda Thomas couldn't help herself, though, and several months later she resumed visits with Christian and Connor via Heritage House, a St. Louis agency that facilitates such exchanges between litigants in custody cases. "I remember going to Heritage House, Christian walking to the door, and his eyes lighting up. He started slobbering, making little sounds, like, 'Mama, Mama,'" she recalls. "He couldn't talk, you know — it was just a mother's intuition. And then he was hugging me so tight. He was almost laughing. [Dawan] had told me, 'He ain't going to know who you are.' But he did. And even the people who didn't like me at Heritage House, because of my mouth, they were smiling."

A girlfriend, Monica Linwood, and her two daughters had moved in with Ferguson and the boys in the Gate District house. A subsequent police investigation would reveal that Ferguson had quit his job with his stepfather's company and was working nights as a bounty hunter, under contract to area law-enforcement agencies. Most of Christian's care was handled by Medicaid-funded nurses who worked at the house 40 hours a week.

"He was a very loving child," remembers Margaret Binion, a registered nurse who looked after Christian for nearly a year. "But it was very involved. There was a lot of work, and you had to be patient and understanding."

Christian drooled constantly, Binion recalls. He needed his clothes changed and washed several times a day. He was incredibly active and could never be left alone.

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