LUVERNE — As they stood before a gathering of nearly 150 people Tuesday afternoon, Mike and Cheryl Cox of Luverne let the tears stream down their faces.
The Coxes spoke of their son, Dr. John Cox of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the grief their family has endured after John and his wife had their one-month-old adopted daughter taken from them by Child Protective Services.
In a story that has received national attention — with profiles by both NBC News and The New York Times — John, a pediatric ER doctor at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and his wife, Dr. Sadie Dobrozsi, a pediatric oncologist at the same hospital, say their daughter was taken due to a series of mistakes and misstatements by hospital staff.
It all began on the morning of May 9, 2019, when the baby awoke in her bassinet around 5 a.m. John took her and placed her in the bed with him. About an hour later, he awoke to her cries, realizing he had partially rolled on top of her, pressing the baby’s shoulders together.
With his knowledge as a pediatric doctor, he thought the baby may have had a broken collarbone — an injury that typically heals on its own without medical treatment — and decided to take her to the hospital.
According to the NBC News investigation (the family confirmed Tuesday the details of the story are accurate, and that they are under a gag order and cannot release additional information — including the infant’s name) a nurse practitioner mistook the baby’s birthmarks for bruises. The NP’s assessment was incorrect, according to seven dermatologists who reviewed the case. In another error debunked by four hematologists, a child abuse pediatrician misinterpreted a blood test.
Those two erroneous claims led Child Protective Services to remove the baby from the Cox-Dobrozsi home two weeks after the incident, on May 24. Nine months later, the baby remains in foster care. Because the adoption hadn’t yet been finalized when the baby was taken, Cox and Dobrozsi could not visit her, and she could not be placed with other family members.
The NBC story noted the power of child abuse pediatricians who have “at times overstated the certainty of their conclusions,” and said “child welfare agencies and law enforcement officials often rely on their reports as the sole basis for removing children and filing criminal charges — sometimes in spite of contradictory opinions from other medical specialists.”
In fact, 15 medical experts — several of them specialists at Children’s Wisconsin — have said there’s no proof of abuse.
The state, however, has moved forward with the case. On Jan. 23, Cox was arrested on criminal charges. If convicted, he could face up to six years in prison. He and his wife plan to fight the charges, and eventually use their experience to advocate for other families in similar circumstances.
Cox resigned from his position at Children’s on the day of the indictment, and his wife has since given a 90-day notice of her resignation, noted John’s dad on Tuesday.
A quartet of John’s high school friends organized a grassroots gathering Tuesday at Grand Prairie Events in Luverne. Their request was that the public rally support for the Cox family by sending letters to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin board members, the Wisconsin attorney general, hospital donors, government officials and foundations connected with the hospital. Meanwhile, they asked everyone to continue to grow the social media campaign to spread the word about the injustice, using the hashtag #BringHerHome.
“The goal for tonight for John and Sadie’s supporters is to add pressure on everyone out there in Wisconsin,” said Bill Schneider, a lifelong friend of John. “Some of these tactics we want to use are letters, videos shared online … and @ mentions on Twitter.
“The audience we’re trying to hit is hospital board and staff, the district attorney and the Milwaukee media,” Schneider said. “The harder we push here, the more attention it gets there.”
Said another of John’s longtime friends, Jesse Reisch, “John and Sadie appreciate how much love they’ve felt from all of us — the phone calls and texts. It’s been felt beyond measure in their words.”
Tuesday’s event provided an opportunity for Mike and Cheryl Cox to address the community and thank them for their support. They spoke of John’s big heart — his love for his children (he and Sadie also have two adopted sons, ages 5 and 3, the younger of which has spina bifida) and how he adored their new little girl.
Mike spoke of how his son — the third born of their five children — knew at an early age that he wanted to be a doctor. The career choice grew out of John’s experiences accompanying his mom to doctor appointments with two younger siblings, both of which had special needs.
“He asked the doctors so many questions,” Mike said. “He was so curious about everything, but especially medicine.”
John attended Boston College, earned his master’s degree from Boston University and attended medical school at the University of Minnesota. He did his residency at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, specializing in pediatric medicine.
Mike said his son is the most passionate person he knows.
“Of course, we may be biased,” he added.
With his wife at his side, Mike told the gathering, “Our hope and theirs is you don’t let the story die here. Please continue with your heartfelt compassion. They do deserve that little girl.”
District 22 Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, was asked to speak to the gathering about the best way to approach political leaders regarding the Cox-Dobrozsi situation.
Weber said deep states exist in every state government, where people are in power and let it go to their head. He also said governors “aren’t real keen on policing their own, but it needs to be done.”
“Hopefully, at the end of the day, we can influence them in a way that corrects this wrong and puts this family back together,” Weber said. “Our thoughts and prayers remain with (the Cox family) and let’s #BringHerHome.”
“We want everyone to know that John is innocent, they need to drop the charges and they need to address the (Child Protective Services) program so they don’t keep making these errors,” Reisch said.
Attendees at Tuesday’s gathering received #BringHerHome stickers, and could also place orders for T-shirts, with proceeds going directly to John and Sadie’s family.