Allison Quets is someone who has always played by the rules. A good student in high school, she managed to squeeze four years into three and graduate a year early. She went on to college, obtaining her bachelor’s degree at Stony Brook College and graduating with highest honors. She then completed a Master’s degree in Social Work. Allison worked as an academic advisor at Farmingdale State College, and it was there that she met and married K. Russell Kennedy. She then received her most recent degree, a Master’s in computer science. Allison’s career was on track and by all outward appearances she had it all, yet she still dreamed of having a family. Allison’s husband did not share that desire and the two parted ways. It was an amicable divorce that was handled without the involvement of attorneys.
Allison threw herself into work, rising to the level of Principal Engineer, an advanced position at Lockheed Martin. She worked for the same company for over twenty years, owned her own home and enjoyed financial security. She kept busy with friends and activities but she realized that what she wanted most of all was children.
Allison so desperately wanted to be a mom that she went through expensive and painful fertility treatments. She finally became pregnant after in-vitro fertilization. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Allison about her ongoing custody ordeal.
She remembers first getting the news that she was pregnant.
“I was so excited. I can remember the exact moment the cell phone rang and it was the fertility doctor. He suspected twins because the hormone level was so high but I did not know for sure until the first ultrasound. I was teaching a class in a conference room in New Jersey. I took his call and immediately called my sister and a good friend from work. I was sure it was twins. On one hand I believed it and was floating on air, on the other hand it was so amazingly incredible that it was hard to believe. Sometimes when goals are so difficult to obtain, it is hard to grasp that you have made it, that you found your dream.”
So full of joy to finally be on her way to motherhood, Allison had no idea that her dream was about to enter into nightmare territory.
Most moms are familiar with the morning sickness that accompanies pregnancy. For 47 year-old Allison, it went beyond that. Allison developed a condition called Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). HG is characterized by severe nausea and vomiting, leading to weight loss, dehydration and nutritional deficiencies. Allison suffered tears to her esophagus as well as debilitating fatigue. Her battle with HG began at just 14 weeks of pregnancy and continued through birth. Her case was so severe that she had to be fed through a PICC line, a peripherally inserted central catheter, which is surgically implanted to provide a specialized form of nutrition called TPN.
Allison turned to former boyfriend and long-time friend John Gurley for help. John was retired and Allison had helped him out over the years. She helped care for Gurley’s granddaughter, Alexis. Gurley’s daughter, Michelle, had a substance abuse problem that prevented her from taking proper care of the little girl. Allison took up the slack, often keeping her for extended lengths of time and even had a bedroom set up for her in her home. In 2003 Allison invited Michelle and Alexis to move in with her.
Allison furnished a bedroom for Michelle and then mother and daughter were both living with Allison. Allison took care of all the expenses and helped care for Alexis, leaving Michelle free to attend college classes. When asked if she ever thought of taking Alexis away from Michelle, Allison responded, “Absolutely not. I have too much respect for the mother-child relationship to ever do that. I just did what I could to care for Alexis.”
John Gurley benefited from Allison caring for his family members. Gurley was at a point in his life that he did not want to be burdened with caring for a child. The fact that Allison stepped in to care for Alexis left him free from responsibility. Allison was not aware initially that this conflict of interest had put her in a dangerous situation.
As Allison became more ill with the HG, she came to rely more on Gurley to help her. Her family was too far away and there was no one else. She was alone, sick and afraid. Rather than support Allison in this difficult time, Gurley decided that Allison was too old and too sick to care for her babies’. He began planning for his cousin to adopt the babies.
John’s cousin, Kevin Needham and his wife Denise had an interest in expanding their family. They had fertility issues of their own and were interested in adoption. It is interesting to note that the Needham’s, blood relatives of John Gurley, never did anything to help their own four year-old cousin, Alexis. It was Allison Quets that came forward to care for little Alexis.
John Gurley grew tired of caring for Allison. He began discussing Allison’s difficult pregnancy with his cousin, Denaze, mother of Kevin Needham. Denaze Needham and John Gurley had a relationship that was closer to that of siblings rather than cousins. Gurley also had selfish concerns that with two newborns Allison would not be able to help with his granddaughter. Gurley’s solution was for his cousin Kevin and wife Denise to take the babies.
As Allison’s difficult pregnancy went on, the plans between Gurley and his family to take Allison’s unborn twins continued as well. Allison condition was deteriorating, with an emergency hospitalization and a surgical procedure to implant the PICC line to provide nutrition. Allison was becoming dangerously ill, malnourished, dehydrated and vomiting blood. By this time Allison had also been taking a prescription medication called Reglan for the nausea. She was unaware that one of the side effects is anxiety and panic attacks.
Unable to work or drive, she was now completely dependent on John Gurley for help.
Allison’s illness and resulting helplessness was not something she was familiar with. She had spent her whole life as a competent professional. Allison gradually slid into the role of victim and those around were able to take advantage.
“When I first came home with the PICC line, which was frightening, I was just sitting on the couch crying, thinking how am I ever going to do this. John has an adopted son and my sister was pursuing an international adoption. So I had these people around me with the mindset adoption is always good and adoption is wonderful. John had this family thing and kept saying these are good people. Open adoption was being presented as if it was more of a guardianship and you are always their mom and always a part of their lives. Before I went into the hospital I sent them (the Needham’s) an email saying ‘Please leave me alone. I have surgery on my mind and two tiny babies coming into this world. Please leave me alone.’ But they didn’t.”
John Gurley was infuriated that Allison was being rude to his family. Allison recalls a specific incident when she was 34 weeks pregnant.
“John would not understand me saying ‘Your family does not care about me. Your family is taking advantage of me.’ He would come over and he would say ‘They sent you an email and you didn’t answer it. Why are you being rude to my family?’ He would yell at me, scream at me to answer the emails. I was 34 weeks pregnant and he was my lifeline. He helped me with my PICC line. I didn’t want to argue and at that point I was scared of him. I was not the strong person I used to be. I wasn’t the person I was, I wasn’t strong anymore. I was so weak and vulnerable. I was throwing up blood every night. I was scared. If I didn’t answer the emails, they would call him. They would say ‘Why won’t she answer our emails? How come she won’t answer our phone calls?’ I tried to get rid of them without making him too angry. I couldn’t. I was scared to say they’re bad people. I don’t want them around.”
Allison did the little she could to try to maintain distance between herself and Gurley’s family. “I didn’t really have a lot of cognitive thought at that point. Things were more instinctive. I tried to get distance without getting anyone angry with me. That’s why I wouldn’t return the emails or phone calls. If it was them on caller ID, I wouldn’t answer it. It was so obvious and then they sent him (Gurley) around. I guess I knew the more access they had, the better their chances were.”
Allison gave birth on July 6th 2005 to Tyler Lee and Holly Ann. She had managed to make it to 37 weeks gestation in order to give her babies the best possible chances. The C-section delivery was complicated by hemorrhaging. Allison suffered a large blood loss and was transfused with 5 units of blood. The babies were healthy but Allison was not in good shape. She left the hospital weak, malnourished and anemic.
The Needham’s pressure continued and without Allison’s consent, they arranged a visit through John Gurley. They were anxious to see the twins that they hoped would soon be theirs. They had already had a home study completed and were proceeding with preparations for the twins despite the fact that Allison had told them she was keeping her children.
The twins were thriving and gaining weight. Allison was still not doing well. She had only gained 10 pounds in her troubled pregnancy, with her weight at delivery just 147 pounds on her 5’9 frame. Six weeks after the birth, Allison was down to 108 pounds. She had very little help with the twins and had to rely upon intermittent assistance from a nanny service. John Gurley was still involved and pushing for Allison to sign the kids over to his cousins. Allison was seriously sleep deprived by this point and showing all the signs of serious postpartum depression. She was clearly not well. Allison tells what happened next on her web site:
“Nannies came and went, and some of my friends stopped in to help at times. However, the work of two premature babies quickly overwhelmed everyone. At five weeks, my friend, John, loaded my minivan with the twins clothing and toys, as well as my suitcase, and we headed to my parent's house.
On the way, we stopped in Jacksonville to meet the Needham’s. As the nanny confirmed, my intent was to tell everyone once and for all that these children were mine, I was their mother and we belonged together. This was my dream and I nearly died to have them and loved them so much. They are the joy of my life and mean everything to me.
My words fell on deaf ears and I was too weak to leave without help. I felt trapped and terrified. The social worker told me over and over that this was the best decision - to sign the consent - and that once I signed, I would feel better and could go home and get my health back. She didn't give me any other solutions for temporary help. After 11 hours of enduring endless pressure to sign a consent in Shorstein's (Needham’s adoption attorney) office on that Saturday -- without food, John finally took me and my twins home instead of to my parents house, leaving me alone, exhausted, and frightened.
After a few more days - alone with my twins and up most of the day and night - I was so exhausted and sleep deprived that I could not think and my world was one of physical and mental exhaustion. No one called to check on me, no one stopped by, and I was completely alone. So, I called John and reluctantly got into the minivan to go back to Jacksonville to sign.
Anxiety overwhelmed me, and I took a dose of a sedative I was prescribed but rarely took. By the time we got to Jacksonville, I was barely coherent and not really aware of what was going on around me. John said I was like a zombie and regrets taking me in that condition. Despite knowing my obvious frail state and lack of desire to sign, they quickly reviewed a few documents for me to sign, then John gave my twins to a Needham relative to care for until the Needham’s arrived in the state.
Shortly after leaving Shorstein's office, I realized my babies were gone - I was not going to be a part of the family like I was told. Panic and terror consumed me and I begged John to take me back and he said no. Throughout the evening, I made dozens of calls for help, but no one knew what to do. In the morning, I called the Needham’s and said I did not want to proceed, but they refused to return my twins and went to Shorstein's office to continuing signing papers.
It's now been over two years, and despite being a very fit and competent, not to mention willing, mother, the courts have awarded custody to the Needham’s. As of now, not even the appellate court can explain why they feel it's better to sever my relationship with my twins. My twins smile and reach for me - we have a bond and want so much to be together. This is cruel and inhumane - all for the sake of selfishness. Isn't adoption supposed to be in the best interests of the children? Isn't adoption supposed to be for children without a home, not children for an infertile couple?”
She was exhausted and in a confused state but came to understand that her babies had been taken. Allison was clearly distraught that she had given in to the unrelenting pressure and signed. She told the Needham’s prior to anything being signed by them that she wanted her babies back. She recalls begging Kevin Needham to please give them back.
“I said please, please give them back. Going to court isn’t going to be good for anybody.”
Needham responded, “Oh, it’s good for me. I like being with Tyler.”
Denise Needham was not any more understanding of Allison’s need to be with her children.
Allison told Denise Needham, “This is wrong. The children need to be with their mother.”
Denise replied, “Once you signed that paper the children became a part of my family.”
Allison was left with no choice but to retain an attorney to attempt to put a stop to the adoption. The Needham’s and their attorney filed the documents with the court with no regard for the mother that desperately wanted them back. Allison looked forward to her visits with the twins while still fighting to get them back.
Allison set up a second residence in North Carolina close to the Needham home. She was allowed to see the children every other weekend but it became clear that the Needham’s wanted her out. They made it difficult for Allison and petitioned the court to put a stop to the visits. They were not concerned about cutting Allison’s time with the twins short.
Allison's Florida Home
One weekend Allison traveled from her Florida home to see the children only to discover that the Needham’s had gone on vacation. Allison tried to get them to schedule a make-up visit but was met with resistance. This was a far cry from the arrangement the Needham’s had promised Allison in their relentless emails and phone calls during her pregnancy.
It was during this time that Allison was told by her attorney that her chances of winning her court battle were decreasing all the time. The fact that the Needham’s had the children in their custody for so long was making it more unlikely that a judge would remove them regardless of who prevailed in the court room.
In an act of desperation, Allison obtained passports for the children, filled her laptop with court documents and contacted a Canadian immigration attorney. She had the children for a rare unsupervised visit and fled to Canada. Her plan was to apply for political asylum and wait for the ruling on her Florida appeal. She was tracked down by the FBI within a few days and returned to the US with a charge of international parental kidnapping. She then spent the next eight months in jail awaiting trial.
Allison was given five years probation and time served. According to media reports, the jail was glad to have her gone. Allison was pleasant but there was such a tremendous outpouring of support for Allison that they were overwhelmed with the packages and mail flooding in daily.
Throughout this battle the Needham’s have remained quiet. They have made very few statements. Their attorney has made comments to the media suggesting that there is a very good reason that Allison does not have her children. There are many references by the attorney pointing out that the Florida records are sealed but he insinuates that there is damning evidence held within those records. The Needham’s cite concerns for the children’s privacy as the reason for their silence. Allison Quets has requested that the records be made public claiming that she is not the one hiding in the shadows. She has been talked about incessantly in the media and the internet. Although forced to endure a level of scrutiny that most of us cannot imagine, Allison insists that she just wants the truth to be known.
There is no doubt that this case has left of damage in its wake. The twins are being denied their mother. Allison has to live with the pain of other people raising her children. She has been jailed, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on her battle for her children and been the subject of harsh criticism. John Gurley’s granddaughter, Alexis, was hurt tremendously by the loss of the twins. Gurley himself is now estranged from his once close-knit family after they took Allison’s children.
The latest appeal was filed in North Caroline last week. Allison comments on the Needham’s and the ongoing court battle, “I don’t think they were expecting me to fight so hard.” If successful in her appeal, the fate of the twins will rest in North Carolina family court. Allison awaits a decision, hoping to be reunited with her twins, “I just want it to be over, to have my children back and forget this ever happened.”
Allison Quets has not been allowed to see her children since her arrest.