DEARBORN — There are certain types of children who are at high risk for abuse and neglect: children of drug-addicted parents, children of parents who have themselves been abused, and children of parents who have some sort of mental disorder.Nowhere on this list created by the American Academy for Family Physicians is being Arab American or Muslim. But these are the reasons that Zainab Al-Nawami believes her two children, ages four and one, were taken from her and her husband after her daughter Rouqaya, 2, died March 26, 2010, from what doctors have since determined was a virus in a child with compromised liver function who had received four vaccines all at once from their family pediatrician three days earlier even though the child was obviously ill at the time.According to Al-Nawami, Rouqaya had been sick on March 23, 2010, and they took her to her pediatrician, Dr. Basel Khatib, for a check-up."She had a fever and diarrhea and she wasn't well. Her father took her," Al-Nawami said. According to Khatib's office notes that day, he performed a very cursory examination that included crossing off two lists of individual symptoms that should have been checked before vaccination administration with two strokes of the pen. Then he proceeded to administer four vaccines.
The father returned home with the child and she appeared no better. At one point through her crying she asked for a bottle. Her father laid her down on the sofa in the dining room within sight of Zainab, who went into the adjoining kitchen to prepare the bottle. The father, Munther Al-Rubea, said he was going to a neighbor's home to visit someone who had come in from overseas. Before he got very far away from the house, he heard Zainab scream for him to come back. "Suddenly Rouqaya had started making strange, choking-like sounds," Zainab tearfully recalls. "I turned in time to see her fall from the couch. I ran to check on her and her eyes were rolling back." She called 911 and the ambulance took Rouqaya to Oakwood Hospital. Her father went with her. The doctors asked Munther whether Rouqaya had pneumonia. Apparently she did but the pediatrician hadn't told him this. Tests at Oakwood Hospital revealed a brain bleed. Rouqaya was transferred to Children's Hospital in Detroit, where she had surgery to relieve the immense pressure on her brain. She never regained consciousness and remained on life support until March 26, when she died.
Both at Oakwood and Children's hospitals, physical abuse of the child was suspected. The massive brain damage was not consistent with a fall from a sofa. First considered was Shaken Baby Syndrome. The Dearborn Police Department was called and arrived before Zainab had had time to get to Children's where she learned her daughter had been taken. The couples' other two children were taken by Children's Protective Services. The parents were overwhelmed with what was happening to their daughter.
"We had no idea what was going on. I don't speak English well and my husband almost speaks none," Zubaida said.
At autopsy, Assistant Wayne County Medical Examiner Dr. Francisco Diaz classified the death as a homicide, although there was no evidence of abuse. The child didn't have neck injuries that would be consistent with SOS, nor any external signs of trauma and no scalp fractures that would have accompanied trauma to the head.
Immediately upon Rouqaya's death, social worker Nashoose McCants called a Team Decision Making Meeting, where what to do about the family's other children was discussed. Their notes state that "neither parent was available," as though the parents were not interested in attending, the reality being that they had just lost a daughter and were otherwise consumed with the crisis.
When they did get to a hearing, they thought they were attending to get their children back, but when they arrived, they discovered it was a termination hearing.
Although neither parent has been charged with anything, hearings drone on at the Lincoln Hall of Justice at a snail's pace. It has now been one year and two months since Zainab and Munther lost their three children. Thankfully, the other two children, Fatima, 4 and Sukana,1, are staying with Zainab's mother, who lives not far from the apartment where Zainab and Munther now live, not being able to bear staying in the same house where their daughter died. Zainab is allowed to be with her children during the day but cannot spend the night with them.
In the interim, Washtenaw County Medical Examiner Dr. Bader Cassin, has testified in the hearings that trauma could not have produced the amount and type of brain damage that caused Rouqaya's death. He said the child's injuries were consistent with a virus. Dr. Diaz admitted that the brain was so damaged that it took two weeks for them to prepare it for testing. This also is not consistent with SBS.
Dr. Cassin said he found evidence of a virus in the child's brain and also a damaged liver, which could have accounted for the bleeding in the brain. "The first doctor, Dr. Diaz, didn't mention any of this and Dr. Cassin said he should have seen it," Zainab said. " It was there in her blood tests. Cassin said that the vaccines Rouqaya got could also have caused the bleeding in her brain."
Perhaps even more significantly, telephone testimony from a Dr. Harold E. Buttram in Pennsylvania revealed five reasons why the injuries sustained by Rouqaya were not inflicted. He said that Shaken Baby Syndrome has been discredited by bioengineers working for the auto industry. To inflict the amount of trauma that would cause cerebral hemorrhage would sever neck muscles and bones first. Secondly he said there was no significant surface head injury either in external bruising or internal scalp hemorrhages that one would expect to see in inflicted trauma. Thirdly, he noted that the child had blood tests which showed a prolonged bleeding time and evidence of liver dysfunction. Had the appropriate tests been done at autopsy, he said, they would have confirmed that the child died of a bleeding disorder. He further attributed the liver dysfunction to inappropriate care by the child's pediatrician, who for one thing never dose-adjusted her vaccines to allow for the fact that she was a premature birth. Fourthly he said that children's vaccines can and frequently do cause brain hemorrhages. And finally, large studies have proven that vaccines should never be given to ill children, as was done in this case.
Rehab Amer, who went through a similar travesty of justice with the state's foster care system 25 years ago, has been accompanying the parents to court. "Dr. Bader Cassin testified that the death should not be classified a homicide because there is no evidence of inflicted trauma or abuse on this child," Amer said. "There is evidence that this child was ill and was given a vaccination or she might have a liver disease. Wayne County Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Diaz didn't do the proper tests to prove the real cause of the death."
The Amer Act was passed into state law last year after the Amers had their children unlawfully removed from their custody after the accidental death of her son Samier. For Amer, Al-Nawami’s case is reminiscent of her own.
"They are doing to her the same thing they did to me," Rehab said. "Al-Nawami was offered the chance have her children returned, if she were to plead guilty in the case of her daughter's death."
"They medical examiners said there was no evidence of abuse," Amer said. "So why are her children not with her? Why are they targeting her? It's like the Department of Human Services aren't concerned about what is best for the kids, but they are more concerned about proving themselves right. They are ignoring the evidence."
"My rights are being terminated before the trial is over. I don't understand it," Al-Nawami said, her young face full of sorrow. "My two daughters are staying with my mother. I can see them during the day, but I have to go home and sleep at night. I can't sleep near them.”
A hearing is scheduled May 19 at 1:30 pm in the chambers of Judge Jerome Cavanaugh at Wayne County 3rd Circuit Court.