She was a
healthy, normal infant, her neonatal scores were above average, she had no
known congenital defects and subsequent genetic tests showed no flaws.
Mr. Coutsoukis suspended a successful business career where he had previously made a six-figure income to care for their baby girl. He nicknamed her Houdini, because, he said, she was "extraordinarily intelligent and athletic".
Within days of Teddy's birth, her mother filed for divorce in California and then made preparations for a move to Oregon, where she had accepted an executive position.
While Mr. Coutsoukis had already made arrangements for the move and had procured a beautiful new house for them, his spouse had decided to take Teddy and leave the father behind, only to relent after his pleas to let him care for their baby.
In November 1993 the family moved to Medford, Oregon.
In January 1994, Mrs. Coutsoukis left the house, taking Teddy, and then
evicted Mr. Coutsoukis with a family abuse restraining order. She placed Teddy
in day care. Mr. Coutsoukis denied that he ever committed any violence and the
court ordered divorce evaluator, Dr. David Oas, subsequently confirmed that in
Ms. Samora Coutsoukis did not call back in response to my request for an interview.
Less than a month later, with the mother having rescinded the restraining order, Mr. Coutsoukis was reunited with Teddy, only to find her catatonic and ill. According to Toni Hulse, the Coutsoukis' housekeeper who saw her a week later, Teddy was withdrawn and not her normal self and she had a runny nose. She had also lost weight, she was very pale and she barely moved. "I had never seen her sick before" said Hulse. She said after Mr. Coutsoukis's return and under his care, Teddy became her usual smiling babbling happy self.
Ms. Hulse, who worked for the
Coutsoukis family from Nov. 1993 to Sept. 1994 said that she observed Mr.
Coutsoukis making baby food for and feeding Teddy, changing her diapers,
bathing her, and playing with her. She also stated that she could tell "he
loved the child very much...He took excellent care of the child. "He was a
loving and very conscientious father," Hulse concluded.
The housekeeper also described Mr. Coutsoukis as Teddy's primary care giver and she said that she rarely saw Mrs. Coutsoukis, who was pursuing a career outside the home. Ms.Hulse testified that she had never seen Teddy in poor condition before Mr. Coutsoukis left the family home that January. Mr. Coutsoukis nursed her back to good health over the next few weeks, Ms. Hulse said.
She described Mr. Coutsoukis's situation as a difficult one. Mrs. Coutsoukis had been hostile to him since Teddy's birth but the housekeeper said he took it in stride, not complaining but concentrating on his job as Teddy's 24-hour caretaker. He sometimes looked tired and overworked from having to stay up at night when Teddy awoke. Mr. Coutsoukis made "the greatest food" for Teddy, his spouse, Susan, and their guests, decorated the house with his art work, and tended the flower garden in the spring and summer.
"I have always said that Teddy is a lucky girl to have Photius as a
father," Hulse concluded.
One of Mr. Coutsoukis's complaints about the poor manner that Teddy was treated by her mother has to do with medical care. When Teddy needed a pediatric ophthalmologist, her father took her to Dr. Laurie Christianson of the Casey Eye Institute in Portland and to Dr. Hoytt at the University of California San Francisco. They examined her gently without touching her or startling her. When her mother took her to a local ophthalmologist following Mr. Coutsoukis's eviction, he put metal clamps on her eyelids and examined her while her mother restrained then 3-month old Teddy. That ophthalmologist then reported that the baby was "uncooperative."
When it was time for Teddy to go to a dentist, her mother took her to one where two assistants and her mother held her down while her teeth were cleaned (see Dentist's report). Her father chose a dentist who let Teddy sit in Mr. Coutsoukis' lap while she was examined and took several breaks during the exam when Teddy wanted. She played in his office while she was there.
In July 1994 at 10 months of age (while on a visit to Greece) Teddy was diagnosed with serious developmental delays. Teddy was diagnosed by Dr. Helen Skouteli (a pediatric neurologist) who recommended a battery of tests including an EEG. Mrs. Coutsoukis forbade her spouse to have the EEG performed, hampering early intervention into Teddy's medical problems. Mr. Coutsoukis meanwhile was reluctant to do anything that would antagonize his spouse, knowing the potentially catastrophic consequences of being separated from Teddy.
Upon return from Greece, Mr.
Coutsoukis sought and began physical therapy for Teddy. Mrs. Coutsoukis again
asked him to move out, and he began caring for Teddy daily at his own
apartment while his spouse worked.
On October 6, 1994, Mrs. Coutsoukis filed a divorce petition in Oregon.
While earning what amounts to an exceptionally high income for the area, Mrs. Coutsoukis insisted that Mr. Coutsoukis go to work or never see Teddy again. While preferring to be a full-time stay-at-home parent, he started a home based business and hired staff. He cared for Teddy in his new home from 8:00 a.m. until Mrs. Coutsoukis picked up Teddy after work each day and oversaw her rehabilitation.
In August 1995 Mrs.
Coutsoukis observed three seizures in Teddy and finally had the EEG done at
Rogue Valley Medical Center.
Teddy began receiving seizure medication prescribed by Dr. Helen Skouteli, the pediatric neurologist who had first examined Teddy 13 months earlier.
A month later Mrs. Coutsoukis unilaterally reduced the number of hours Mr. Coutsoukis could care for Teddy in his home to every weekday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and just "his" weekends or in other words, when she so decided.
In November 1996 (after nine months of resistance) Mrs. Coutsoukis finally relented and the parties began a court-ordered custody evaluation of both parents and the child by Dr. David Oas (a licensed clinical therapist, and a clinical psychologist with 25 years of experience). Dr. Oas, a member of the American Psychology Association, said that he had testified "in hundreds of child custody cases, with the best interests of the minor child always considered as the primary goal."
In February 1997 Dr. Oas indicated that he would recommend that custody be given to Mr. Coutsoukis. He said that he based his decision on "the strength of Teddy's biological and emotional attachment to her father." He noted that "Teddy is an at-risk child who has significant delays in development and that I believe Mr. Coutsoukis is the best parent and best person to provide in-home parental care of Teddy with his capacity to use specific skill-building strategies to offset the significant behavioral deficits she exhibits." He added that such in-home care is preferable to out-of-home care for a child with Teddy's needs.
Mrs. Coutsoukis refused to undergo psychometric tests and denied Dr. Oas access to her recent psychiatric records.
In mediation, which Mrs. Coutsoukis also resisted, in December 1996, an agreement was signed by which Mr. Coutsoukis gave his estranged spouse temporary custody of Teddy provided that she would spend her days with her father as was done previously. The agreement also required that she would discuss educational and medical decisions with the father before implementation.
To Mr. Coutsoukis's consternation, the mother bargained down the hours that Teddy would spend with her father, choosing instead to have her cared for by hired baby sitters until 11:30 AM. Nevertheless, Mr. Coutsoukis felt that it was the best he could get under the circumstances (which included the fear of a feminist judge) the notoriously unfair treatment that immigrants received in court and the possibility that a court might grant exclusive custody to the mother, with limited rights for him, as happened subsequently.
Having left her $70,000 a year job, she then requested the court's permission to move to New York, citing better job opportunities there.
She moved to New York in April of 97 and Mr. Coutsoukis followed a week later with Teddy. He moved his business so he could be close to his daughter.
Upon arrival in New York, Mrs. Coutsoukis filed a modification petition in Westchester Family Court and applied for a temporary restraining order.
In June, with Mrs. Coutsoukis claiming that he violated the order, Mr. Coutsoukis was dragged into the courtroom in handcuffs. He was brought into court without a hearing or admission of guilt, without even informing him of his right to counsel, and with complete disregard for UCCJA. The former New York Family Court Judge Ingrid S. Braslow, based on Ms. Samora's unsupported allegations, suspended the Oregon order and drastically reduced Mr. Coutsoukis' time with Teddy to weekly supervised visits.
Having been terrorized and having seen his daughter severely diminished, Mr. Coutsoukis consented to the order of protection at a subsequent hearing in September 1997. He did so "without admitting" and while vociferously denying Ms. Samora's allegations.
The judge dismissed the mother's modification petition with prejudice and reinstated the Oregon order. Although in the intervening three months, Teddy was only allowed to see her father for a few times at the YWCA under supervision. Following Braslow's new decision, Ms. Samora refused to allow Teddy to see her father as specified by the then in effect Oregon order, except for a few minutes in a child rehabilitation facility. During that visit Ms. Samora brought a bowl of what Mr. Coutsoukis, a world class cook, described as "white vomit" for Teddy to eat.
Prior to that hearing, in the summer of 1997, Ms. Samora had taken Teddy to Dr. Darryl DeVivo at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center requesting that Teddy be placed on the ketogenic diet. Teddy was hospitalized in August for monitoring and to be placed on that diet.
Mrs. Coutsoukis took Teddy to the emergency room twice, for emergency hospitalizations, after she had seizures that went on for 15 minutes.
In May 1998 the Oregon divorce decree was entered shortly after Oregon denied Mr. Coutsoukis' petition to modify the custody/visitation order and custody was given to Ms. Samora.
In August 1998 Oregon declined jurisdiction leaving the case in N.Y. courts.
In April 1999 Judge Braslow had recused herself from all future proceedings in this case and resigned from the bench in December of that year.
Mrs. Coutsoukis had taken Teddy back to Dr. Darryl DeVivo at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center where he put the child on a ketogenic or high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diet for the seizures. Despite the lack of research that proves the diet can be helpful in such cases.
Upon viewing Teddy's records, Dr. Oas wrote an unsolicited letter to the court stating that Teddy had shown regressive losses in cognitive, language and physical development. This letter was based on reports from special education teachers that teach in her schools in Ossining and Hawthorne, New York. He said the therapy she was currently undergoing was inadequate for her needs and she needed daily parental intervention that he believed Mr. Cousoutkis could best provide.
Dr. Oas later on reiterated his recommendation, saying that since June 1997, during which time Teddy has been predominantly under the care of her mother, with minimal contact with her father, Teddy's behavioral deficits have increased significantly, whereas before being separated (from her father), she was progressing significantly.
Dr. Oas also stated that the most current research on early intervention suggests that long-term brain deficits are known to be a consequence of traumatic life experience, especially in neonates, toddlers and children the first three years.
These deficits are even more pronounced if there are neurological/brain/developmental delays and are best offset by immediate comprehensive and early intervention seven days a week by a parent who has knowledge of the specific skills to be applied and a strong emotional attachment to the child to offset environmental stressors
After examining Teddy's medical records, Dr. William Bloom, a neurological consultant, said that Teddy's condition "seriously deteriorated beginning in the fall of 1997 and continued to deteriorate...she had previously progressed beyond expectation."
He added that Mr. Coutsoukis made Dr. DeVivo aware that Teddy spent her days with her father who was her primary care giver since birth. Dr. De Vivo, however, chose not to speak with Mr. Coutsoukis or Dr. Skouteli and assumed the validity of the medical history provided by Teddy's mother.
Upon a change of treatment, Teddy suffered seizures of such severe magnitude (more than 15 minutes of unconsciousness according to her mother) that she was hospitalized twice on an emergency basis. Major setbacks or 'regression' as noted by Teddy's care givers followed the seizures. He believed that removing Teddy from a medication that worked without serious side effects and substituting a ketogenic diet was a departure from standard practice and resulted in lasting brain damage from the ensuing seizures.
According to the Child Neurology Society, the ketogenic diet is a high-fat, very low-carbohydrate diet used in some children with epilepsy that is difficult to control with conventional drugs. It was developed in the 1920's and fell into disuse as new medications to treat epilepsy became available. The diet has never been evaluated in a scientifically controlled manner. Its major side effect is kidney stones.
Sandra Savo, a baby-sitter hired by Mr. Coutsoukis in April 1997 also testified in an affidavit regarding Mr. Coutsoukis as a parent that Teddy was a loving happy child and adored her dad, who "goes out of his way to spend time with her and teach her new things."
Ms. Savo said she could only "imagine the horror and agony" Teddy and her father felt when they were suddenly separated from each other. She said she was there the day Teddy's mother "falsely" accused her father of abusing and imprisoning her. Ms. Savo added she recently was rehired to help with Teddy during her vacation with her dad, and found her to be frequently constipated, incredibly hyperactive and distractible, repeating the same thing over and over. She said Teddy had forgotten a lot of the things she knew like sign language, alphabet and numbers, how to turn a knob and open a door, insert a key into a keyhole and personal hygiene. Teddy could no longer do elementary things like chew her food or blow her nose. She was temperamental and insecure, bits instead of kissing, salivated profusely and was extremely insecure. Ms. Savo said she had never in her life met "anyone as patient with a child as Photius."
This reporter, who visited Mr. Coutsoukis and Teddy in Peekskill, agrees with Ms. Savo's last statement. She has never met anyone as patient with a child as Photius Coutsoukis.
I observed Mr. Coutsoukis spend three hours in the kitchen painstakingly preparing food for Teddy's ketogenic diet. While he was cooking, Teddy was already asleep for the night.
When she was awake, he cared for her lovingly as well as played with her and fed her and helped her in relearning to feed herself. He read to her, talked to her, hugged her.
He repeated over and over with Teddy her colors and numbers and letters and words, acting as her private art therapist a speech therapist and a physical therapist. He appeared to be eminently qualified to give Teddy the proper care as well as a great deal of love.
As for himself, Mr. Coutsoukis said that he was struck by disbelief about his little girl's current situation and about "the despicable things that were done to her in full view of a country-full of supposed humans".
Although Mr. Coutsoukis said that he worked in his home office on weekends when Teddy was not with him, he did not work while Teddy was there, speding his time instead with Teddy and also enlising this reporter's help in household tasks.
At the present time, the Coutsoukis divorce decree is under appeal in the Oregon Court of Appeals, and Mr. Coutsoukis is still seeking custody of Teddy in New York in order to "save" his daughter's life "before it is too late". Teddy is America's other six-year-old hostage. ctr8/10/00