Anyone who heard about the struggles of Olivia Gant felt compelled to help the brave little girl. By the age of seven she had faced years of medical issues requiring her to have countless tests, take strong drugs and even have life-changing operations.
When her mum, Kelly Renee Turner, posted pictures of Olivia on social media, they often showed her in a hospital bed surrounded by her cuddly toys. Yet she still managed to give everyone a smile, despite having spent most of her childhood in hospital.
It all begun in 2012, when Turner took Olivia to a hospital where they lived in Colorado. She had recently moved from Texas with Olivia and her two sisters, but their dad had stayed there for work. At the time, Olivia was two and suffering from severe constipation. Doctors treated her by removing the hardened stool from her colon and she was sent home.
Then, Turner told doctors that Olivia was finding it difficult to eat and struggling to digest her food properly. Her observation triggered a course of medical care that would dominate Olivia’s life.
Over the next five years, Olivia made over 1,000 hospital visits and had several surgical procedures. This included her small intestine being rerouted through her large intestine, which took in food from a bag on her stomach.
Despite no doctor witnessing it, Turner insisted that her daughter was having seizures and Olivia was put on strong medication that put a strain on her little body.
People donated $22,000
Eventually, according to Turner, Olivia’s feeding tubes stopped working – so she was given an intravenous tube that fed nutrients directly into her veins. It left Olivia so weak she was often bedridden and had to be pushed around in a wheelchair.
It was heartbreaking to see her suffering such a range of debilitating mystery illnesses.
Turner would document her daughter’s progress on social media and through a blog. And she said travelling to get the best care for Olivia was costly, so she set up a GoFundMe page to raise cash for her “Princess”. Loved ones and strangers moved by her plight donated more than $22,000.
Turner also claimed that her daughter was also dealing with conditions such as autism, developmental delays and fluid on the brain. She was always by Olivia’s bedside and while doctors later described her as “high-maintenance”, most believed she was simply pushing to get her daughter the help she so desperately needed.
Then, in 2017, Turner gave Olivia’s supporters some grave news – there was no cure for her little girl’s health problems and she was now terminally ill. She told doctors that keeping her daughter alive was “unfair” because she had no quality of life – and requested that her feeding tubes be removed.
However, the doctors disagreed, so Turner switched to a new doctor who was willing to sign a Do Not Resuscitate order on Olivia, in order to let her “die in peace”.
Turner then appealed to the public to help her complete Olivia’s bucket list of all the things she wanted to do before she died.
There was a rush of offers. Olivia wanted to help “catch a bad guy”, so she spent a day with the Colorado police. The Make-a-Wish foundation organized an $11,000 party where Olivia fulfilled her dream of being a “Bat Princess”. She also helped local firefighters and became a national celebrity overnight, featuring on news reports after posing with the first responders.
Then, in July, Turner convinced doctors to withdraw all medical care. Without the feeding tubes, Olivia wouldn’t survive, so she was taken to a hospice for her final days.
Olivia reportedly sang Disney songs at first but grew quieter as she started to starve to death. When she said she was hungry, melted popsicle juice was rubbed on her lips using a sponge. Olivia dressed as a ‘Bat Princess’.
Olivia passed away on August 20 and her cause of death was recorded as intestinal failure as a complication of her multiple medical conditions.
Then, in 2018, tragedy appeared to strike Turner again. She told doctors that another of her daughters was suffering bone pain, saying the girl had previously had cancer and she feared it had returned.
But when doctors made enquiries, they could find no records of a cancer diagnosis. It raised suspicions and medical experts then concluded there was nothing wrong with the girl. This made them start to question Olivia’s health problems.
Body exhumed for tests
Olivia’s body was exhumed and an autopsy revealed there was no intestinal failure and she didn’t have any of the other illnesses that Turner had claimed. Her cause of death was undetermined.
Investigators learned of Turner’s insistence on putting a DNR order in place and that it had been her who drove all of the procedures tragic Olivia had endured. During questioning, Turner mentioned Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy – a psychological disorder in which someone pretends their loved one, often a child, is ill so they can be the centre of attention.Tragic Olivia’s gravestone.
But she denied she had it, insisting, “That has never been my case, like at all, whatsoever. You can talk to anyone that stood by my side through… all of this.”
It was then that the police arrived at the shocking conclusion that there had never been anything wrong with Olivia. Turner had convinced doctors her daughter needed treatment and basked in the attention – as well as profiting from people’s generosity.
She had defrauded the Medicaid system of more than $538,000, made up fake illnesses and subjected Olivia to unnecessary hospital visits and surgical procedures to treat illnesses she’d never actually had.
In 2019, Turner was charged with murder, child abuse, theft and fraud. She pleaded not guilty but this year, weeks before her trial was due to begin, she made a plea deal. She admitted felony child abuse that negligently caused death, plus theft and fraud charges, and the murder charges were dismissed. Turner insisted she was innocent but had pleaded guilty to spare her family the stress of a trial.
The daughter Turner had said was suffering with bone pain was perfectly well after being taken from her care. Olivia’s family also placed blame on the Children’s Hospital Colorado, where Olivia was treated for five years, and it settled a private lawsuit for an undisclosed amount last year.
In February, Turner, 43, was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Photos and videos of Olivia were played – including one of her singing her favorite song, Hakuna Matata from The Lion King, as she was being taken to the hospice.
Olivia had been the victim of an appalling failing of care by those who were supposed to keep her safe. But those failings and all of her suffering stemmed from the cruel betrayal by her mother – the one person she would never have expected to want anything but health and happiness for her.