Wednesday, 29 September 2010

SBS: disabled survivor

A few minutes of male rage were all it took to strip the potential of a healthy life from baby Phoenix Laver.
How often have health experts warned people never to shake babies? Infants’ neck muscles are weak and their brains are undeveloped.
Shaking a crying baby to make it stop is both dumb (you think the baby’s going to get the message?) and potentially catastrophic.
You can a kill an infant in a couple of seconds if you shake it hard enough. The whiplash effect can cause blood vessels to bleed into the brain. It’s akin to throwing your baby off the roof.
Now three years old, Phoenix has epilepsy and cerebral palsy because of the 2007 assault and could face visual difficulties, seizure disorders and behavioural problems down the road.
Michael Bagley, the man who changed Phoenix’s life forever, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault on Monday just as his trial was to begin. His sentencing hearing is in January.
What can the 32-year-old possibly say in his defence? That he lost it because his girlfriend’s baby wouldn’t stop crying? Who can possibly feel sorry for this man?
He didn’t put Phoenix in his crib, close the door and let him cry for a while. He didn’t call his girlfriend or take a few deep breaths to calm down.
Instead, Bagley threw the six-month-old on the couch, shook him repeatedly and tossed him onto a bed three times. (Phoenix hit the bed with his head.) Then he dropped the tot into his crib and abruptly picked him up again so that Phoenix’s head hit the side of the crib.
The seriously ill infant was whisked to hospital the next day.
Single moms might want to listen up. A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece on the so-called Cinderella effect — that step-parents abuse and kill children at much higher rates than birth parents.
This is not to suggest most step-parents and boyfriends are potentially dangerous.
Far from it. But if you’re living with or dating a guy with a hot temper or weak coping skills, your fussy baby and his inability to handle the situation appropriately could put your baby at risk.
“You have to picture the scenario in which these situations actually take place,” says Dr. Louis Francescutti, an emergency doctor and University of Alberta injury researcher.
Typically, a guy who meets a single mom is interested in her, not her kids, he says.
“It’s lack of care, lack of love, lack of compassion, lack of skills,” he says.
He added he suspects there are far more instances of shaken baby syndrome (SBS) than we think because so many cases may be undiagnosed.
“I think what we’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately,” he says.
“How many kids go to school with learning disabilities because somebody’s shaken their head … and the health-care system never found out about it?”
Since 2000, 27 children have died in Alberta from non-accidental traumatic head injuries, according to the office of the chief medical examiner. Last year, alone, there were five such deaths, a troubling uptick.
Years ago, former Oilers tough guy Georges Laraque was the poster boy for a local SBS public awareness campaign.
You may remember the eye-catching image of Laraque holding a baby. The tag line? “Are you tough enough to be gentle?”
Susan Patenaude, co-ordinator of the Alberta Network for Safe and Healthy Children, a provincial child-abuse initiative, thinks it’s time for another hard-hitting campaign.
Young men constitute the highest risk group for baby-shaking, she adds.
“The challenge is that people often have heard … that you shouldn’t shake a baby, but they don’t understand what happens. It’s a pretty devastating result.”

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