Brady Folkens portrait

Brady Alan Folkens. Source: Dawn Van Ballegooyen

UPDATE 3/12/2016

STAR Academy, the juvenile correctional facility where Brady Folkens met his untimely death, is being shut down. South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard says that the boot camp style treatment center will close its doors permanently on April 8.

See: Governor closes STAR Academy juvenile facility near Custer; 64 jobs lost

Rapid City Journal reports:

Department of Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk sees the closure of STAR Academy as proof that diversion programs are working. He said the state’s juvenile justice reforms have created a system where troubled youth are receiving treatment within their communities, rather than through the courts or state-run programs.

“To take child out of a home, in and of itself causes issues,” said Kaemingk who favors community-based intervention.

Brady’s mother, Dawn Van Ballegooyen, had pleaded with authorities not to place her son there, but to allow him to participate in a community-based program. He wasn’t a drug addict; he had experimented with marijuana and wore his hat to school backwards. There was no need, she felt, for such a drastic action to be taken. Her pleas fell on deaf ears at the time.

Too late for her son, the state appears to recognize that a community-based solution would have been better.

by Health Impact News/ Staff

A 17 year old boy is dead, and his mother wants answers. The answers that Dawn Van Ballegooyen has been given by the state of South Dakota don’t make sense to her, and her mother’s intuition tells her that somebody is covering up what really happened to her son, Brady Alan Folkens, while he was in state custody.

Most of the stories that we cover at Medical Kidnap have to do with children who were taken by the state via Child Protective Services, but there are other avenues for the state to acquire custody of minors, especially teenagers. As this heartbreaking story shows, the results can be just as devastating, no matter which government agency decides that it can do a better job of raising a child than the parents.

Just as with CPS cases, Dawn was not given a choice in her son being taken from her.

Brady Folkens – Fairly Typical Teenager

According to Dawn, Brady was a fun-loving, artistic, and a really smart kid, the kind who sometimes corrected his teachers. Sometimes that kind of intelligence results in a student who is bored by school. Brady’s grades slipped, and he was required to attend summer school between his 8th and 9th grade year.  Dawn stated:

Brady Folkens was a 17 year-old teenager who was full of life.  He always looked out for the underdog (he has an autistic brother who he promised to look out for).  He loved his mother, father, brothers, little sister, aunts, uncles and all of his friends with all his heart.  He loved to play his guitar and play his Xbox.  He was VERY intelligent, he was in the 95% in the Stanford testing nationwide.  I believe that’s why he wasn’t feeling challenged in school.  Teachers were even amazed by how intelligent Brady was.  One of his last conversations with his mom he talked about that he was torn between looking into going to school to become a lawyer or a doctor.  Brady was just a typical teenage boy whose dreams got cut short.

Brady Folkens thumbs up

Source: Dawn Van Ballegooyen

His lack of enthusiasm for summer school led him into a situation that both he and his mother were powerless to fight. When his mother had a difficult time getting Brady motivated to attend summer school, school officials threatened Dawn with truancy charges against her. When the single mom asked for help, the school’s answer was to call the police.

The State Steps In and Incarcerates Brady

On the 2nd occurrence, the police told Dawn that they required her to file something called a CHINS petition – Child in Need of Supervision. Dawn said she didn’t know that she had a choice not to sign, nor did she have a clue how devastating that paper would prove to her family. She erroneously believed that it was a temporary thing; instead, it kept her son in the system indefinitely, and gave the state rights to her child.

Brady reached his senior year of high school, and decided to experiment with smoking marijuana. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a government agency, 36.4% of high school seniors report having tried pot at least once in the previous year. [Source] More than 1 out of 3 teens experiment with marijuana, but most teens are not under the ever watchful eye of the state. Because of the CHINS petition, the state of South Dakota had become a watchdog over Brady. They required random urine drug tests, and Brady failed.

Such a failure in an adult can result in a penalty of job loss or benefits lost. It does not result in incarceration unless there is a crime involved, such as possession or distribution. For 17 year old Brady, unfortunately, Dawn says that an officer and the school took great issue with another serious supposed infraction by Brady:

He wore his hat backwards at school.

According to Dawn, the backwards hat was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and the juvenile court came down hard on him. Apparently, someone in the system associated backwards hats with gang activity, but Dawn says that is absurd, and that they don’t have gangs there.

Excessive Punishment at Boot Camp?

Though Brady was never arrested, he was sentenced to go to STAR Academy Boot Camp – a juvenile corrections facility that was more than 7 hours drive away from his home. Dawn says that she pleaded for another option, telling them that she would pay for a drug rehab program locally if that is what they required.

Dawn says that she has learned that the federal government pays “tons of money” for every child that is sent to the boot camps. The parents are required to pay child support and maintain medical insurance on the kids.

State law reportedly requires for the juvenile facility to be a last resort, after all other options were exhausted, yet no other options were allegedly offered. Federal law apparently also mandates that minors not be sent more than 70 miles from home. Both laws were allegedly ignored, and Brady was shipped off to STAR Academy on October 25, 2013.

It ended up being a death sentence for Brady. He was buried 2 months later, on Christmas day.

Went to STAR Healthy – Dead 2 Months Later

Brady Folkens was completely healthy when he left his home for the final time. He was skinny, just 120 lbs, but he had no health issues. Those allegedly didn’t start until he arrived at STAR.

Dawn says contact with his family was very limited. Brady loved his family, and looked forward to his one 10 minute phone call per week when he was allowed to talk with his mom.

In his journal, he called those brief contacts with home “the highlight of the week.” He wrote numerous times of looking forward to the day when the boot camp would allow his mother to visit him on December 21. His journal entry on December 17 shows his deep love and respect for his mother:

I’m really excited to see my Mom this weekend. I can barely believe it’s happening. I feel a little bad though. It’s a long trip and a lot in gas $ on top of the money she already pays for me to stay here, but I bet she’ll be happy to see me.

Little did they know that it would be the last time they would see each other, and by the time Dawn arrived at STAR on Dec. 21, he was very sick and had been admitted to the hospital. He died that night.

Brady Folkens little boy

Her little boy is gone. Source: Dawn Van Ballegooyen

The state says that he died from a rare viral infection. The cause of death is listed on the death certificate as “lymphycytic myocarditis associated with parvovirus B19.” But that explanation doesn’t add up, reports Brady’s heartbroken mother.

Dawn is still trying to put the pieces together. She and others believe that there is a cover-up of what actually happened. She has sought the input of Dr. Lars Aanning, as well as other experts. Dr. Aanning believes that:

glaring errors in the pathologist’s work up almost completely rule out this virus as being responsible for Brady’s death….I support Dawn’s (Brady’s mother) contention that the autopsy was grossly negligent, incorrect, and appears calculated to cover up Brady’s real cause of death.

Brady’s mother is still trying to obtain all of the medical records, but from the records they have, combined with Brady’s journal entries, she believes that there may have been numerous instances of wrongdoing and negligence by STAR Academy and the medical staff, and that the autopsy performed on her son involved a conflict of interest.

They believe that the cause of death is most likely the result of a severe reaction to a drug prescribed, without his mother’s knowledge or consent, to Brady at STAR. Instead of recognizing that he was having a reaction, staff and doctors allegedly continued to give other medications that should not have been given with his reaction, ultimately resulting in his untimely death after being in state custody.

How a Healthy Teenager Can End up Dead 2 Months Later – Timeline

It seemed to all start on October 28, when Brady received the flu vaccine.

According to medical records and Brady’s journal entries, over the next month, he had a sore throat, a sinus infection, and exhaustion that he chalked up to the higher elevation. He was prescribed amoxicillin and cefuoxime. His acne got worse, and he was prescribed the antibiotic minocycline on December 5, at a dose reportedly higher than the normal dosage for a 126 pound teenager .

Antibiotics like amoxicillin and minocycline can potentially cause liver toxicity.

His mother reports that STAR Academy was not authorized to prescribe drugs without parental permission. They also allegedly neglected to inform Dawn about the drugs.

She reports that no one ever asked her if Brady had any drug allergies or sensitivities. Had they asked, she reports that she would have informed them of a previously documented reaction to tetracycline, in which he began being jaundiced, a sign of liver toxicity. When that happened, the tetracycline was immediately discontinued. Minocycline is in the tetracycline family.

Brady showed signs that his body was again reacting to the minocycline, but those signs were apparently missed by the staff at the boot camp. Over the next 15 days, Brady experienced stomach aches, severe abdominal pain, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, and extreme tiredness. All of these symptoms are listed on the drug information sheet accompanying the medicine, as well as on sites like, which states that “You should check with your doctor immediately if any of these side effects occur when taking minocycline.” These are signs of a possibly life-threatening reaction, which can include autoimmune-mediated hepatitis.

Because of the risk of liver damage with minocycline, the manufacture recommends that other drugs that tax the liver, like Tylenol or antacids, not be given to a patient taking minocycline.

Yet that is exactly what happened. By December 16, Brady had been experiencing extreme tiredness. Staff at STAR gave him Tylenol.

On Wednesday, December 18, Brady wrote in his journal:

Today I felt really weird this morning. I thought that it was Thursday….I felt really tired in school.

He saw a doctor and was prescribed 3 days of bedrest. The staff reportedly ignored that, and Brady shoveled snow the next day with a 100 degree fever. He also played guitar that evening with other guys at the facility. His journal entry on the 19th reads:

Today I woke up feeling like complete shit. It has only gotten worse so far. I anticipate feeling bad tomorrow as well. But hopefully I’ll be better by Saturday when my mom comes to visit.

That was Brady’s final journal entry. He began vomiting. Staff gave him more Tylenol, as well as Ibuprofen, and Mylanta, all of which can interact with minocycline. Antacids are contraindicated with minocycline. His condition continued to deteriorate. No one made the connection that he could be reacting to the minocycline. He continued taking it, even on his final day.

No one called his family to let them know what was going on.

On Saturday morning, December 21, a staff member noted that Brady was looking yellow. He was transported to Custer Regional Hospital E.R. with vomiting, diarrhea, fever, jaundice, and severe abdominal pain, which Brady rated as “the worst possible pain.” Records allegedly do not show that the staff at Custer were told of any of the over-the-counter medications that Brady had been given.

Brady Folkens little boy with sword

Brady was fighting for his life. Source: Dawn Van Ballegooyen

Tests at Custer included injecting a contrast medium to help in visualizing body parts in scans. Records allegedly show that Brady vomited violently immediately after the contrast medium – Gastrografin – was injected. On the consent form for the procedure, signed by STAR staff, it says that:

Other serious complications include severe respiratory distress or cardiovascular collapse accompanied by shock. Very rarely do these or a combination of these complications result in death.

Mother Arrives at STAR, Learns Her Son Is Hospitalized and Near Death

Dawn thought that she was coming to visit her son at the STAR facility, and had no idea that he was sick at all. After her 7 hour drive, she was shocked when staff members told her that Brady was at the hospital. There was no indication of how serious his condition was.

When she arrived at the hospital, she found a very sick young man, but he was coherent and able to talk. He walked down the hall to the restroom on his own. She recalls him trying to decide if he wanted to go to school to be a doctor or a lawyer when he got out and graduated. At the time, they believed that both were viable options.

Brady Folkens with duck

His mom says that Brady always stood up for the underdog. He had such a big heart. Source: Dawn Van Ballegooyen

Meanwhile, several STAR staff members and the E.R. doctor held what appeared to Dawn to be a furtive conversation as they huddled together. She says that they were whispering, and the STAR personnel “looked panicked and very worried.” By this time, Brady had been diagnosed with acute hepatitis and liver failure. There were reports of a possible clot in his liver. She wonders if they were making the connection to the minocycline.

Shortly after, she reports that she received a call on her cell phone from the judge who committed Brady to the STAR Academy. He wanted to know if it was OK with her if they transferred custody of Brady to her. Of course, she agreed, thinking that her son would get better and that he would be back home, never to go back to STAR.

Looking back, that phone call looks to Dawn like there was an ulterior motive or hidden agenda behind it.

Immediately after the phone call, the E.R. doctor, Dr. Heith Waddell, informed Dawn that Brady was going to be flown to another hospital, closer to her home. At that time, doctors said that Brady had acute portal vein thrombosis.

Things Go Downhill Fast

Dawn begged to ride with her son on the airplane, but people at Custer persuaded her to drive and meet him at Avera Hospital in Sioux Falls. She left for the 4 hour trip, but it was another 2 hours before Brady was loaded onto the plane. The air transport records reportedly show that his blood pressure and his heart rate were all over the place.

Throughout the transport the patients cardiac rhythm jumped between a wide complex rhythm, sinus rhythm, and accelerated junctional rhythm.

When they contacted Custer Hospital to ask about Brady’s heart rhythm prior to transport, they learned that he had not been on a heart monitor there.

By this point, Dawn says that Brady was clearly in trouble, and it doesn’t appear that the air transport team had adequate information on Brady. They allegedly administered a number of medications in the attempt to stabilize him, to no avail. They started an IV with heparin. According to the literature on heparin, combination of heparin with both NSAIDs and minocyclene can be problematic. The heparin was later stopped.

By the time they reached Avera Hospital at 8:30 pm, Brady was in “profound shock.” He was hypotensive, hypoxic, and had a heart rate of 35. He was still able to respond to questions. Very shortly after, his heart gave out, and doctors at Avera began cardiac life support.

When Dawn arrived, she says that they rushed her to his room where they had him on a ventilator. The doctors called time of death at 11:12 pm. However, one report states that Superintendent Haiar at STAR “reported that he received information that Folkens had died between 9:30 and 10:00 PM on 12-21-13 (MT).” She tearfully reported to Health Impact News that his lips, ears , and fingertips were already blue.

She says that a nurse later told her that the scene was staged to make it look like he was still alive when she got there, but she knew what she saw:

He was already gone.

Brady Folkens memorial stone

A life too short. Source: Dawn Van Ballegooyen

Autopsy Anomalies

Dawn was told that her son died from parvovirus B19, but she says:

I felt it that night, that I wasn’t being told the truth.

Doctors at Avera asked her if she wanted an autopsy. She was still in shock at the death of her child that she didn’t even know was sick until a few hours earlier, but she said that she wanted an autopsy, but she wanted it to be performed at another hospital – Sanford. She hoped, that way, to get objective answers. She never signed any consent forms.

Contrary to her wishes, a pathologist at Avera performed the autopsy. According to records of the investigation, “Haiar [from STAR] said he requested an autopsy after learning of Folkens’ death.”

Another physician, Dr. Lars Aanning, later noted numerous anomalies with the autopsy. According to a letter that Dawn sent to the judge:

We have just recently learned from Lars Aanning M.D. that Brady Folkens’ death was not due to a viral infection with parvovirus B19 as the pathologist, Dr. Raed Sulaiman of Avera McKennon, documented in his final autopsy report on January 15, 2013.  Dr. Sulaiman based his diagnosis on three positive tests for this virus obtained post mortem.  However, four tests for this virus had originally been ordered.  The 4th test (IgM), which was negative for acute infection with parvovirus B19, had been left out of the autopsy report.  The other three tests simply confirmed that Brady had previous exposure to this virus, that his immune system had developed antibodies to the virus, and that traces of this virus could still be detected by very sensitive DNA methods.  In fact, over 50% of teenagers like Brady show positive results for these same three tests.

Our conclusion that Brady Folkens did not die from an acute parvovirus B19 infection is supported by the results of Dr. Radio, pathologist at University of Nebraska Medical Center, an authority on parvovirus B19 infections of the heart, and several medical specialists, both national and international, who have recently published studies on parvovirus B19 infections of the heart.  Dr. Aanning will be glad to share his evaluation and correspondence on this issue.

Dr. Aanning reports:

I have had email conversations with international authorities on parvovirus B19-associated myocarditis and they also do not agree with Dr. Sulaiman that Brady Folkens died from the effects of this virus.

These experts believe that Brady died from a cascade of events precipitated by an autoimmune hypersensitivity reaction to the minocycline which resulted in ultimate cardiac collapse and death. From the medical evidence, it appears that his liver was overloaded. He reacted to the minocycline, and other liver-toxic medications that he was given compounded the overload on his liver.

Brady Folkens mom crying with his picture

Dawn pleads for justice for her son. Source: YouTube Video screenshot.

Dawn and some of the experts she has consulted believe that the autopsy was “engineered” as a cover-up to hide possible negligence on the part of STAR and medical providers.

A combination of omissions, wrongful interpretations, and incompetence … caused the death of Brady Folkens – whose minocycline-induced illness should have been promptly suspected and appropriately treated.

Mom Wants Justice and Closure

The death of one’s child may be the most difficult thing any parent may face. Not having answers makes it even harder. Dawn feels like the state of South Dakota is stone-walling her. She just wants answers. She wants to know for certain what happened to her beloved son. Instead, she is being forced to fight for every bit of information she gets. There are still missing medical records. It took her many months to get Brady’s journal.

When Dawn first started corresponding with Health Impact News, and we responded back, she wrote to us:

Thank you for believing my beloved son Brady’s life did MATTER!!!

Of course it mattered. Every child matters, and no child deserves to die. How cruel is it that the state decides it knows best how to parent, yet the child is abused, molested, or dies while in the care of the state? Dawn is a mom who wants validation that her son’s life meant something.

Brady was a very talented young man with immense potential, whose dreams were cut down before they ever had the chance to be. He made some mistakes, but those mistakes should not have cost him his life. From his writings, it is clear that he regretted his mistakes, and had learned from them. He was determined to work hard for his freedom, and make a difference.

His mother prays that his story can help to save other kids. She asks how many children die in custody that we never hear about.

Friends of Brady have uploaded a recording of a guitar track that he wrote and recorded at age 15:

How You Can Help

Dawn Van Ballegooyen wants to find an attorney willing to help her to get justice for her son and uncover the cover-up, but hasn’t yet been able to find one with the courage to fight this fight. She hopes that a good attorney will step up.

She wants a whole new investigation to be done, because the first one was allegedly filled with conflicts of interest and cover-ups. Supporters believe that it may take an out-of-state investigation to get to the bottom of everything. It would be great, she says, to finally be able to get all of the medical records. At this point, some of them are still missing.

Governor Dennis Daugaard may be reached at 605.773.3212, or contacted here.

Supporters may get involved and leave words of encouragement at the Justice for Brady Alan Folkens Facebook page. Her mother’s heart needs to hear that her son’s life DID matter. Those messages are welcome on Brady’s page.

Brady Folkens FB page

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