What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Each year in the United States alone, medical treatment is sought for an estimated 1,400-1,600 babies who have been shaken. Don’t let your child become just another statistic! Tell everyone who cares for your child “Never shake a baby!”

Friday, November 5, 2010

"I Get to Witness Miracles Everyday"

***The information in this story may be graphic and hard to handle, please use caution when reading. Names have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved. However, if you need to contact this family, please leave a comment OR send an email requesting contact to sbsvigil@aol.com ***

My (really long) Story
My beautiful daughter “Angel” was born January 1995. I had never been happier in my life. I loved my new baby and I loved her father with all my heart. One day in March 1995, as I drove to work I thought to myself, ‘I can’t think of one thing that would make me happier than I am right now’.
My daughter had been having bouts of colic so I went home for lunch every day. This day was unlike any other day. She was crying but that was to be expected; she’d been crying for a couple weeks. I’d been in contact with her pediatrician who wouldn’t see her saying I was just a nervous new mother and told me to change her formula, change her feeding position etc. I fed her, gave her a hug and a kiss and asked her father if he was ok or needed me to stay home to give him a break…he said he was fine. He was going to take her for a walk.
When I returned from work that evening her father was busy in the kitchen getting ready to put dinner on the grill. He stopped his work for a couple minutes and followed me into the bedroom to check on the baby. The lights were low, she appeared to be sleeping and it was quiet. It didn’t take me long to realize her father’s behavior was erratic and very unlike himself. He kept telling me to keep an eye on her, that she’d been breathing strangely and followed that up with a revelation I didn’t expect. He told me he had a brother who died who had been breathing like her. I had never heard of any brother but he had me so concerned I didn’t take the time to ask questions. He left the room and I moved closer to see what he was talking about. As I stood over her I realized her eyes weren’t closed and then I saw something brown coming from her mouth. I picked her up and she didn’t respond, she didn’t wake up, she didn’t do anything. I panicked started moving her around to get her to wake up and she started convulsing and screaming this blood curdling high pitch scream and her body bent so far back it seemed an inhuman ability, and then she went limp and silent. I didn’t think, I just reacted. I put her in her car seat, grabbed my keys, ran outside to the bbq and told her father we were going to the hospital NOW! He started freaking out. He threw furniture and seemed like he was out of his mind. I really wasn’t focusing on him I was so scarred for my daughter.
We arrived at the hospital around 7pm and they took her in immediately but I couldn’t give them the information they needed to help her because I didn’t know what was wrong. Her father’s behavior escalated. He grew more and more agitated and more and more dangerous. He started threatening doctors and staff whenever “Angel” would cry while they were poking and prodding looking for an answer. As the night wore on I got to a place where I didn’t recognize him at all. He wasn’t the gentle loving man I loved. He was angry and aggressive and I was afraid. The hospital staff was so concerned they posted a security guard outside of our room. They came in around midnight and said they were going to do a cat scan because they ran out of tests they could do. I went it to the room and watched as they were doing the test and while I’m not familiar with what I was looking at I knew what I was looking at was bad…really bad.
Then the tech turned to me and asked…”what happened to this baby?!” Lights came on, bells went off…my entire night flashed before my eyes and I knew what was wrong with my baby and I knew what was wrong with her father. I went on autopilot. I couldn’t lose it, I couldn’t break down, I couldn’t think straight. The doctors came in and while they were telling me the only way this injury could have happened was by violent shaking I could barely hear them. I felt myself falling and falling and it felt like it would never end. I carried my daughter back to our room where her father was waiting and pacing. He asked me what they said while pacing like a caged animal.
I was afraid. I sat in the chair with “Angel” in my lap and told him they said she’d been violently shaken. He said, “You think I did this!”, picked up the hospital bed and threw it on me. I ducked to shield my baby and it landed across my back. The security guard immediately removed him from the building. I was fine and “Angel” was unhurt in his attack. Someone came in and told me he’d been removed and wouldn’t be allowed back inside and they had called the police. I was somewhat relieved but at the same time everything was a blur. I didn’t know what was happening or what was going to happen. A parade of doctors and nurses came into room.
They proceeded to tell me they didn’t have the facilities needed to care for my daughter and she was going to be transferred to another hospital and that I could go with her and they quickly started preparing us for the ambulance ride. As they were strapping me onto the gurney and placing my daughter into my lap the police arrived and proceeded to question me. They questioned me as if they believed I was the person who did this and kept telling me I needed to tell them the truth, that I did it. I kept telling them I wasn’t home and I didn’t know what happened until the doctors did the cat scan. They said they were going outside to question her father and I needed to rethink my statement and they would be back. They were gone I don’t know how long but when they came back they took my daughter from my arms, removed me from the gurney and told me she was no longer mine and if I ever wanted to see her again I would do exactly what they said…go home with her father and wait for children’s services to contact us. I begged, I pled, a cried, and begged again. I told them I couldn’t go with him, that he’d already attacked me and I was afraid. I followed them and kept begging but they said I wasn’t their concern and then they left.
I ran to my car. I tried to get out of there without her father seeing me but he saw me and he got into the car before I could lock the doors. I didn’t know what to do so I drove and I avoided his questions. A couple blocks from home he flipped out saying I believed he did this and that I was going to abandon him and then got out of the car. I went home to our apartment building, ran upstairs and grabbed clothes and tried to get out before he got there but I didn’t make it. He saw me going down the back stairs and chased me. At first I was worried about waking the neighbors and making a scene. When I realized he wasn’t going to allow me to leave and that he had every intention of hurting me to prevent me from leaving I agreed to go back upstairs thinking I could get to the phone. I ran for the phone and dialed 911 but he took it from me before it even rang and broke it into a thousand pieces by beating it against his chest. He then grabbed me by the throat, lifted me off the couch and hung me against the wall. I tried to fight but I couldn’t reach anything so I grabbed him where it hurts and twisted as hard as I could. He didn’t flinch…not even a little. He just got angrier. He let me go but then started punch holes in the wall around my head. I flipped. I didn’t care about waking the neighbors. I screamed and pounded on the walls and yelled for help. It was 1am and I figured help would come. It didn’t. He couldn’t have me making so much noise. He threw me down on the floor, grabbed my throat and wouldn’t let go. I believed I was dead. I don’t know how much time passed but I woke up and started screaming again. He grabbed me and drug me into the bedroom and pushed me into the closet. I screamed and pounded as loud as I could for as long as I could until I had no voice left and no energy. He kept coming in and punching holes in the walls by my head telling me to be quiet and trying to get me to tell him I didn’t believe he could do this. The rest of the night is a blur. I don’t remember much except when it got quiet and he stopped coming. I snuck out of the closet and found he was sleeping on the couch. I grabbed my keys, opened to door as quietly as I could and ran. I was a mess and I didn’t know what to do so I went back to the hospital.
They saw me walk in and saw their faces looking at me and heard them saying, “oh my god”. They checked me out and outside of all the cuts and bruises I was ok. They said they had to call the police which they did. Imagine my surprise when the same 2 officers who took my daughter from my arms and told me she was no longer my child showed up. They laughed and joked about how I got what I had coming to me all the while photographing my injuries. They told me I got what I deserved and left. They went to my apartment and arrested my daughter father but I didn’t feel safe so I couldn’t go back there.
I couldn’t go see my daughter. I couldn’t call and find out how she was. All I could do was wait. I waited for 2 days with no information. After children’s services came to interview me I was told I would only be allowed supervised visitation with my daughter. I didn’t understand but I didn’t care. I just needed to see her. I went to the hospital and they put me in a room with several doctors and a social worker who proceeded to tell me they needed to explain what I was about to see. The doctors explained the extent of her injuries and that she was in a coma and they didn’t know if she would survive or what her quality of life would be if she survived. At the end of the interview the social worker turned to me and said…”so you’ve done this before?” I was dumbfounded and confused by her question and very angry that she would even ask such a thing. She proceeded to tell me that the officers who accompanied her when she was transferred told them I had done this and I had done this to my other child. I’m not really sure what I said or how I reacted. I was so angry and appalled I just talked and she listened. She said she believed me but she had to go by the court order and only allow me to see my daughter while being supervised. I didn’t care I just needed to see her.
I walked into picu and there was my baby so tiny and helpless with so many tubes and wires; so many that there was hardly a place to be able to touch her. I couldn’t pick her up or hold her. I could only stand by her bed and look at her and stroke her little arm and talk to her. I would talk to her for hours. After a couple weeks I was able to hold her but with all the tubes and wires it wasn’t easy. After another week they decided to allow her to wake from her induced coma. They didn’t know what would happen, if she would be able to breathe on her own and if she could if she would be able to eat. They prepared me for the worst. She woke up, she breathed on her own, she opened her eyes, she cried. They brought me a bottle and she ate. I was so relieved. They gave her medication for her pain and she went to sleep. I left the hospital to go home and shower and upon my return she was back on all the machines and back in a coma. They said her vitals were crashing and they had to do what they had to do. A few days later they removed the machines and woke her again. Again she did wonderfully and this time she didn’t crash. She stayed in the hospital another week. Upon her release they gave me her prognosis. She would never walk or talk; she was blind and would be in a chronic vegetative state for the rest of her life. And then, they sent me on my way. With the help of the social worker at the hospital my daughter was released into my care although she was still not mine according to the courts. I spent the next year in court to clear my name and get full custody back. That’s another long story but ultimately I have full custody back and her father got 10 years total for what he did to her and me. He was released after 8 ½ years. During his incarceration he continued to violate court orders not to contact me sending letters expressing how he believed we would be a family again. I reported it but they said there was no imminent danger and refused to do anything about it. When I heard he was going to be released I moved out of state and changed my name. So many people said I was being melodramatic and he wasn’t going to come looking for us after so much time. The day he was released my phone started ringing. Friends started calling telling me he’d been to their homes looking for me. I called his parole officer but I am unsure what happened from there. I didn’t want him to find out where I was. “Angel” is now 15 and I am using an alias for my daughter still because we live in fear he will one day find us. Just writing this I know can be dangerous but after living in fear for so long, a few months ago I decided he wasn’t going to take my whole life. I believe our story could help someone and it needed to be told.
As I said, “Angel” is now 15. She is not blind, she can say, “good girl”, “I go school”, “I got you” and “I love you” . She learned to crawl when she was 7 and now walks on her knees. Although she’s essentially nonverbal she’s a very social girl and as far as I’m concerned she’s multilingual. She understands English and Spanish and is quite adept at teaching anyone who spends time with her her own language. She’s very smart and she’s still learning and progressing. I think she gets a kick out of proving the medical community wrong. All in all she is no vegetable. She loves music, it’s her life. She also loves swimming and walking in her walker and riding in the car. We don’t really focus on what she can’t do because it’s so much more satisfying to focus on what she can do. I admit for years I didn’t understand how something like this could happen. It was difficult having my entire life ripped out from under me in the blink of an eye. At first I was numb and overwhelmed. Then came the self pity and guilt over feeling self pity. Then came the anger. All the while I had this beautiful brilliant girl doing everything in her power to tell me she’s an angel incarnate. She has a gift that not many people have. She has the ability to get everyone she meets to fall in love with her. Being unable to carry a conversation I have to say she amazes me how easy she makes it look. So now that the numbness, anger and self pity have passed I know I’m the luckiest mom. I get to witness miracles every single day and I’m so happy and proud to be the mom of an SBS survivor.