January 22, 2013, when I arrived at Efrem’s daycare I instantly knew something was wrong. The daycare provider picked him up from a chair and passed him to me. She told me he had been lethargic all afternoon and did not eat as well as he usually does. Efrem was then seven months old and fully capable of holding up his head, and was almost strong enough to sit up on his own. On this day, he rested almost limp in my arms and seemed to have no control over his head. Even with two dogs barking in the same room, he would not open his eyes. The criminal investigation would eventually reveal that the daycare provider had tried tickling his cheeks and other forms of stimulation without a response. She said to me, “I should’ve called.”
That is what she always did. She called when he had a rash on his chin, when I forgot to tell her what time he last ate. And she always called when he was fussy or not eating well.
This time she never called. She suggested that it might be the flu because her stomach had been feeling weird.
I decided to go home to look him over. Andrew was teaching that night, so it was several hours before he got home. I called the afterhours nurse hotline and talked through the symptoms and concerns with a nurse, but also requested for a pediatrician to call back. Both suspected the flu as well. Efrem vomited three times that night – twice at home and once in the waiting room at the emergency room. He was discharged from the ER at 3:30am with a probable virus.
Back at home, he slept for three hours but woke up screaming. I stayed home with him that day; Andrew went to work for the morning. January 23rd, Efrem slept for two or three hours at a time. When he was awake, he only moaned for 15-20 minutes before falling back asleep. Throughout the day Andrew and I were able to get him to drink between two and four ounces (much less than his typical eight ounces). Was he getting better?
Later that evening, I noticed Efrem’s soft spot was bulging out of his head. It was round and hard. Little did we know this little semaphore would be the key to his true diagnosis. He again didn’t sleep well at night, waking up every couple hours crying or moaning.
January 24th, I called in sick from work again and made an appointment to see the nurse practitioner at the clinic. After telling her about all of his symptoms and the swollen soft spot, she called the pediatrician at the hospital. When she came back to the room, I was told to take Efrem to the hospital immediately. Andrew quickly left work and met us there.
In the pediatric unit, doctors and nurses started running tests. Was it the flu, meningitis, something else? Efrem was screaming and fighting against every needle and stethascope. After the CT scan, the doctor came back to the room with the hospital’s social worker. They had discovered bleeding and swelling in Efrem’s brain – trauma they described as so severe that the only possible explanation was abuse, and most likely Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). They explained that if an adult would have this amount of pressure on their brain, they would potentially die. The only thing saving Efrem was his soft spot, still hard and swollen. The three of us were sent to the other hospital next door, as the severity of his brain injury required a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).
Andrew and I held Efrem every minute of every day for the next five days in the PICU, only putting him down to change diapers and twice going home to shower (but even then he was held by our parents and siblings). We had to witness our 7-month-old baby put completely under for MRIs. He screamed and fought the ophthalmologist who later confirmed that Efrem also had hemorrhages in his eyes – another telltale symptom of SBS.
After five days in the PICU, we got to go home. We were so scared to take him home. We had no idea what to expect after such a horrible brain injury. How would this change him? What would lie ahead for his future? Efrem did not need surgery while in the hospital, so it was just a wait-and-see game. They could only assure us that it would take time for the swelling to go down and the blood to absorb back into his brain.
Our new life.
Over the last two years, he’s had follow up CT scans and MRIs, and continues to have eye appointments. Just a few days after Efrem’s first birthday (June 17th), we were told the blood on his brain had finally reabsorbed into his brain. This was great news; however, every time we asked a medical professional about the long-term effects (developmental, emotional, behavioral), they couldn’t give us a definite answer.
Every single day we continue to worry: Will he suffer from depression? Will his development suddenly come to a halt? Will he have social issues? Should we allow him to play sports? What if he falls and hits his head like toddlers do? This is our new life: The result of one careless, heartless, inhuman act.
Help us spread the word about child abuse and neglect crimes.
Sentencing and Corrections.
After a six-month investigation, the case was delivered to the Brown County District Attorney’s office along with the recommended criminal charge of felony reckless endangerment against the daycare provider. Eventually the DA’s office informed us that they were going to offer her a plea deal: four counts of child neglect, one count of disorderly conduct and one count of obstructing justice.
We did not fully agree with this strategy as it reduced the crime to all misdemeanors. However, they explained it would be the best way to ensure that she would get some jail time as part of her sentence, and the number of charges would already make her a repeat offender. As part of the deal, the DA’s office was going to recommend six months of jail with four years of extended supervision. We wanted more – ideally two years (which isn’t possible with misdemeanors) – and they raised the recommendation to eight months with four years of extended supervision.
The daycare provider pleaded no contest with the plea deal. She was sentenced on October 24th, 2014 to the recommended jail time (with Huber privileges) and extended supervision.
When it came time for this criminal to report to jail, she was sent home with a GPS anklet – back into the same community where she committed the crime and where our family lives. We were told that she was released with the monitoring system because of overcrowding and several letters from doctors (due to HIPAA laws they were unable to give us any more information). (Yes, apparently it’s possible to get a doctors excuse for jail – yet, during this whole process she was fit to have a second child.) After discussions with the DA’s office and the Lieutenant at the jail, we learned that if someone would have recommended to the jail that time actually be served she would probably be behind bars right now, not in our community on an anklet.
We need to let our community leaders and officials know it’s time to start making a difference in the prosecution of crimes against children.
And it’s time to hold our justice and correctional systems accountable.