An Irish mother is wracked with guilt about the decision she made to entrust her son, who has the mental age of a two or three year old, into the care of the Brothers of Charity.
Margaret Best spoke to the Irish Independent in the light of fresh evidence concerning the horrific conditions at Lota House, a home for vulnerable children run by the religious order.
Now aged 42 and living at home with his family in Douglas, County Cork, Kenneth Best cannot talk, read or write.
Best's mother told the Independent that as a young married woman coping with her profoundly mentally handicapped son, she had reluctantly turned to what she called 'the professionals' for help.
'I have huge regret about putting Kenneth into Lota. I'll live with that guilt for the rest of my life, but I caved in to the pressure from the so-called professionals,' Best said.
The Brothers of Charity assured her that Kenneth would have a special education program designed to help him specifically, she said. They dismissed her suggestion that she could perform the program at home. Although she had refused to part with her child it was this assurance that changed her mind.
Kenneth was placed in care at Lota House in Glanmire, County Cork, on September 1 1975, and he remained there until 1984. But now more than 25 years later, after Best won access to Kenneth's medical records, she was horrified to discover one staff member had written: 'I feel we should at least go through the motions of being concerned, even if over a mother's trifle.'
The medical records show that Kenneth quickly developed a series of illnesses after admission, however his mother was not informed he was ill and was strongly discouraged by the staff from calling to see him.
Other recently released records show that for at least seven of the nine years that Kenneth was resident in Lota there were repeated references to vermin in the building, with mice, spiders, ants, beetles and cockroaches found in several rooms.
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Best herself recalls having numerous meetings with the staff throughout 1976 about Kenneth's repeated diarrhoea. 'But I never got a proper answer - they regarded me as a troublemaker, I think,' she told the Independent.
When Best took Kenneth home in September 1977, she was horrified to note his groin area was covered in white blisters. At the time she challenged the staff that it appeared they were not cleaning him, but she was assured that he was well cared for.
Now Best has learned that Kenneth's records report him as being distressed and crying on several occasions in his early years at Lota. In addition, he had eye and tooth problems and by April 1978 his genital area was inflamed and swollen. There was no evidence that Kenneth was ever seen by a doctor to address these problems.
Margaret told Lota management that Kenneth had acquired his handicap as a result of a serious adverse reaction to the so-called 3-in-1 vaccine as a child, so she insisted he should not get any more vaccinations. Against her wishes however, Kenneth was taken for a polio vaccination. Best only discovered he had been vaccinated when she won the right to get his records in 2001.
'When Kenneth was ill, I was rarely informed of this, despite asking to be told. There are numerous references in his records to him being given a drug called Mellaril which was not a treatment for swollen eyes, ear infections, diarrhoea or insect bites. It is an anti-psychotic,' Best told the Independent.
On September 13, 1979, in a report that upset Best, the records note: 'Found (name erased) in bed with Ken Best, nappy partly taken off again.'
'These are only the incidents that were reported. I dread to imagine what else was perpetrated against Kenneth, which was not witnessed or not recorded by staff,' Margaret said.
In December of 1984 she removed Kenneth from Lota and he has remained in her care since then.
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