Life at 8 MPH

Slowing life down when you’re a parent of an AHT victim.

Every parent knows how important it is to get away. But it’s hard to get away.

Getting away seems even more impossible after a child becomes the victim of child abuse. Between keeping track of the investigation, medical bills and follow up appointments, court hearings and the corrections process, most days it is impossible. Not to mention the anxiety of spending time away from a child who has been victimized. All of this happens so quickly and frequently that it’s easy to forget to also take care of our own needs as parents. We need to give our minds a chance to unload, even for twenty minutes.

Child abuse and neglect, in all their forms, have a victimization radius much greater than most people might at first realize. Not to minimize the inexcusable harm done to our children, but these traumatic experiences throw their weight around onto every family member. Sometimes it even seeps out into a greater community of caregivers and friends.

I was a runner before Abusive Head Trauma (AHT) became part of our household’s everyday vocabulary. Nothing too intense, but enough to say I’d train for several mid-distance races a year. I never expected to find running a lifesaver or my way to truly get away. After our son became the victim of AHT, running was one more form of therapy – a kind of dynamic meditation.

At first, it wasn’t the healthiest of practices, as my mind would simply focus on the act of going into the space of the city ahead of me. Just go. It wasn’t exploration or thrill. It was autopilot on an undetermined course. Eventually during a therapy session, I realized that autopilot had intruded upon so many facets of my life including my way to get away, running. On my runs prior to this session, I was always on a path without an outlet. It took several months and a stress fracture in my foot before I found that sweet spot of mindfulness in my running shoes.

For me, running slowed life down to 8 MPH. It was about having this one thing under my control for an hour at a time, and keeping my feet on the ground without feeling like they were about to be swept out from under me. This was my way to get away and come back refreshed for our son.

We all need a cadence to count on – something predictable that grounds us when everything else is suspended so far out of reach. Running may not be for everyone. Whether your thing is croquet or crochet, painting or paper airplanes, just remember to slow things down and take time for you. As a parent of a child abuse victim, how will you slow your life down to 8 MPH? Get out. Make it mindful. Make it count.

More reading: “Cheaper Than Therapy: How running can help fight depression and anxiety,” Betsy Welch, Trail Runner Magazine

Mom’s Everyday: Sarah in a New SBS Segment

A huge THANK YOU to Liz and Moms Everyday for covering on our story and helping us get the word out about Shaken Baby Syndrome. Please share and show support to all families/victims affected by this horrific act on our innocent babies and children. The more awareness, the bigger the difference we can make!

Watch the segment here.

Enforcement of Laws Protecting Our Children

Fill in with whatever cliche you’d like: “It’s an uphill battle;” “Like paddling against the current.” Any way you look at it, child abuse and neglect are cultural issues. Most apparent in the great number of Adrian Peterson supporters that stood by his side after he whipped his son with a switch. Whipping a child is NOT discipline, and it’s NOT acceptable – even if that’s how a person was punished as a child.

Enforcement of child abuse and neglect laws is failing because we, as a community, are hesitant to label such abuse as abuse. The system is stressed, bulging and seeping at the seems. And that’s why families like ours must live in fear of running into our son’s abuser in public. The accounts are too great. Prosecutors prosecute (when they can). Judges sentence. And then they slip through the cracks in corrections. Now the woman who abused our son is home, watching her own children with nothing but a GPS anklet. These violent crimes repeatably go unpunished, while drug offenders fill up our jails.

Child abuse and neglect are cultural issues. Now how do we change such values?

Child Abuse And Neglect Laws Aren’t Being Enforced, Report Finds from NPR.

Be fruitful.

Beyond the Three Hallmark Symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome

There’s a lot of junk science attempting to dispel what has traditionally diagnosed Shaken Baby Syndrome. Most of which fails to present counter diagnoses. The article below exemplifies what happens when we sharpen our lenses to come to a greater understanding of the human body and all of its signals. It’s not a matter that the original three symptoms were incorrect; the additional symptoms listed below are just that: the medical community outlining the signs of abuse in more precise terms. Let’s take what we already know about the image of SBS and child abuse, but also refine its form into a more precise figure. It’s important for families and the medical field in general, but even more important for the welfare of our children. Especially in the prosecution of these horrifying crimes.

Doctors Devise A Better Way To Diagnose Shaken Baby Syndrome from NPR.

Be fruitful.

Sparking the fireworks inside: AHT and healing.

Last weekend, Efrem asked if we could go see the 4th of July fireworks. His class had been learning about Independence Day at daycare all week, and fireworks sounded really cool to his toddler-self – bright colors and big booms. We got to see a few cracklers and boomers before he asked to go home (too scary). That’s all we expect from a now three-year-old.

Firsts like this naturally cause us to reflect on our journey with Efrem. It’s nearing two and a half years since Efrem became the victim of Abusive Head Trauma (AHT), and part of every new experience, like watching fireworks, is the fact that we almost didn’t have the opportunity.

The day he was admitted into the pediatric intensive care unit our emotions and responses ran wild – fear, sadness, confusion, denial, anger, anxiety, and the intent, singular focus on his wellbeing. These initial responses have lingered (as I suspect they do with all parents of AHT victims). Some emotions do transform and take on new meaning, like the way denial of the suspect’s criminal wrongdoing eventually evolves into betrayal. Others fade into the background only to resurface when it chooses, like when sadness catches you off-guard while watching news broadcasts about child abuse.

Perhaps the greatest and cruelest of all of these emotions is fear: the fear of what the future might hold. Every parent wants their child to succeed, to try their hardest, and to simply have fun. I will never forget how Efrem’s physician responded to our question: What if he likes football or hockey? Can he play when he’s older? Or do we risk putting him at even greater risk for further injury? She replied that as a doctor she couldn’t tell us whether he’ll be OK or not. But as a parent she wouldn’t take the chance.

Six months after the AHT diagnosis, Efrem’s last MRI showed that the bleeding in his brain had subsided. Soon we also got confirmation from his ophthalmologist that there is no permanent damage to either eye; the hemorrhages had cleared.

Despite this good news, fear never fades. It never transforms. Fear is always fear. Even as he continues to meet all of his regular developmental milestones, we will always follow up with the questions: What if _____ happens? What if we miss a sign? What about five or ten years from now?

Although it doesn’t relate directly to cases of infant AHT victims, articles like this, “People With Brain Injuries Heal Faster If They Get Up And Get Moving,” from NPR give rise to a bit of hope. Not the form of hope that compromises our fears. Instead it’s a small sense of encouragement that our understanding of the brain is progressing.

Articles like this remind me of when our then seven-month-old AHT victim played with toys again in his hospital room, when he helped us page through his favorite books that we brought from home, and when he finally laughed the most beautiful laugh three days into his stay in the PICU.

I can only imagine all of his neurons sparking into being again. His movements and awakenings were beautiful on the outside, as they were probably the most magnificent fireworks inside.

Be fruitful.

Something’s not right.

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.