Mother Who Refused Medical Care for Son Sentenced in His Death

Mother Who Refused Medical Care for Son Sentenced in His Death May 23, 2019
Robyn Johnson with Colton as an infant. Photo credit Robyn Dornbusch Facebook profile.

An Indiana woman received a lengthy prison sentence for the negligent death of her 2-year-0ld son. Robyn Johnson’s 2-year-old son Colton died in 2017 after she refused medical care for a life-threatening infection.

According to court records, Johnson pleaded guilty to negligent of a dependent resulting in death. A judge sentenced her to a 25-year prison sentence.

On June 16, 2017, Robyn Johnson took her 2-year-old son Colby to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital due to complications of a chronic illness. According to police reports, doctors diagnosed Colton with a condition called Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS).

According to a probable cause affidavit, the mother made a horrible choice. When Robyn Johnson arrived at the Emergency Department, she told doctors that her son’s J-tube (feeding tube) had come out. Johnson said she placed the tube back into his stomach that afternoon. However, the tube had been leaking throughout the day.

Doctors checked his feeding tube and the tube was in the proper place. However, labs determined that Colton was severely dehydrated. Additionally, Colton showed signs that he had a blood infection. Realizing the child was in grave condition, doctors wanted to admit Colton into the pediatric ICU.

The affidavit states that doctors told the mother that her son was seriously ill. Additionally, the doctors explained to her that without proper treatment, Colton could die from kidney failure or dehydration. Despite the information provided by doctors, Robyn Johnson refused to have doctors admit her son into the ICU.

Doctors advised the mother both orally and in writing that Colton could die without immediate medical care. Despite these warnings, Johnson signed an “Against Medical Advice” form and left the hospital with her son.

After leaving the hospital, two doctors contacted Robyn and urged her to bring her son back to the hospital. Early the next morning, Colton went into cardiac arrest. He was airlifted and returned to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. However, doctors were unable to revive him. Colton died within hours of his mother signing him out of the hospital.

Following Colton’s death, hospital staff contacted the police and reported Robyn Johnson for negligence. Police investigated Colton’s death for more than a year. In September 2018, authorities charged Robyn Johnson with neglect of a dependent causing death.

The death of Colton is incredibly tragic. She knew that her son was gravely ill and refused life-saving treatment. Why she made this decision is not known.

Colton could have survived his mother made a better decision. Short bowel syndrome (SBS) is a rare but manageable condition. The National Organization of Rare Disorders says SBS is the result of a portion of either the small or large intestines losing function. Individuals with SBS struggle to properly absorb nutrients, which can lead to a multitude of health issues.

Common side-effects of SBS are diarrhea, malabsorption, dehydration, malnutrition, and weight loss. Given that Robyn Johnson knew the risks of her son’s chronic illness, her choice to sign him out of the hospital is incomprehensible.

Parents have the responsibility to ensure their children receive proper medical care. Robyn Johnson ultimately failed her son and cost him his life. Her sentence of 25-years in prison feels like a slap on the wrist.

*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.

She co-hosts the YouTube show, “The Smoking Nun,” with Kyle Curtis on The Non-Sequitur Channel. The show airs weekly and tackles pseudoscience, current events, and crime stories.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Friend

    I would like to know whether the mother has severe mental illness, and whether the child’s father was active in his life. However, it is good to see the authorities taking action when a parent knowingly removes a severely ill child from life-saving medical treatment. There are too many “sovereign citizens” out there placing their children in danger, and sometimes endangering the rest of us as well. The trend has to be reversed.

    The Vevay Newspapers link above says this:

    One of the doctors said that Johnson agreed to bring the child back for treatment after she came back to Vevay to check on her other children. Johnson also stated that she was unhappy with the way the child was treated while at the emergency room.

  • Jim Jones

    I’m sure she got the best medical advice from Facebook.


  • Yeah, no. Don’t throw the mentally ill under the bus, please.

  • Brian Curtis

    And I’m sure someone will eventually step up and try to defend Johnson by saying “parents must have absolute authority over their kids, and no doctor or government can take that away.” But then, murderers often babble such nonsense rationalizations for their crimes.

  • Friend

    Thanks. I understand your concern. However, I know a woman who took her own small children on a two-week cross-country trip without their father’s knowledge. When she forgot which pocket her car keys were in, they slept in the snow in a city park. The mom was banging on doors of houses where she lived 30 years earlier. The authorities refused to intervene, because she was the children’s mother and so it was not a kidnapping. This was traumatizing to the children.

    Is the woman I know a monster? No. She had a severe untreated mental illness. She later received treatment after being committed several times. This country has virtually no support for families in that situation, including vulnerable children.

    Robyn Johnson has already been thrown under the bus, without any insight into her state of mind. She could be a callous monster, a religious extremist, a substance abuser, any number of things. Or she could be struggling without critically needed medical and psychiatric support.

  • Friend
  • Katie Joy

    Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is one of the BEST pediatric hospitals around. Cincinnati and Cleveland have amazing pediatric hospitals. I highly doubt this was a “treatment” issue

  • Reddazrael

    I feel feel sick over what that child must have suffered through, and I also feel awful for the medical staff as well, who knew damn well a child might die and could only watch helplessly as their warnings were ignored.