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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Factitious Disorder By Proxy: Colorado Woman Allegedly Fakes Her Son's Cancer And Raises $23,000

Sandy Nguyen, accused of felony theft after allegedly faking a cancer diagnosis in her son.

You may remember one of the "dead people" the boy in The Sixth Sense saw because of the horrible way she died. She was the little girl whose mother was secretly poisoning her.

Here is a YouTube clip from the movie where the girl's father discovers what his wife has been doing to their daughter:


Click here to watch the video if it does not appear above.

This is a Hollywood dramatization, but it turns out that some people actually do that to their children. What used to be called Munchausen Disorder By Proxy is now referred to as Factitious Disorder By Proxy (or Factitious Disorder Imposed On Another).

It is a rare mental illness that causes a person to either intentionally sicken another person or to pretend that other person is sick. The perpetrator is almost always a mother and the victim is almost always her child.

In Denver last week, news broke of Sandy Nguyen, a woman who faked a cancer diagnosis for her six year-old son. She allegedly shaved his head every day, lied about his so-called medical procedures, and posted elaborate claims on Facebook about how stressful it was to raise a sick child.

Sandy Nguyen also allegedly raised around $23,000 for her son's supposed treatment costs. Eventually, her story unraveled and friends discovered she had been lying about her son's illness. She was arrested and is currently in jail on felony theft charges.

Here is a 9News story where Megan Fitzgerald interviews me about the situation:


Click here to watch the video if it does not appear above.

Although it is likely Nguyen has a somatoform disorder such as Factitious Disorder By Proxy, she may actually be struggling with other issues. One of the hallmarks of Factitious Disorder is that the person's main motivation is to gain attention by being sick (or by taking care of someone who is sick). In order to qualify for the diagnosis, the person's motivation cannot be financial gain.

Clearly, Nguyen gained financially from faking her son's illness, although it is not known if that was her original intent. If she had planned all along to fake the illness to make money, she would probably meet the criteria for a different disorder such as Narcissism or Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Also, please note, I have never met Nguyen or her son, and I have not conducted a psychological evaluation of her. I am not giving her a formal diagnosis. But, there seems to be enough information in the public sphere at this point to make an educated guess.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.
www.CherryCreekPsychology.com
www.Twitter.com/mwachtel
www.Facebook.com/drmaxwachtel
www.YouTube.com/drmaxwachtel

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