Thursday, 12 May 2011

SBS or AHT: Alberta: James Vanderham plead guilty

Alexandra Zabjek, May 8, 2011
Hailey Waluk and her mother, Brenda Waluk, talk about Hailey's daughter, Taelyr. The child was violently shaken and choked as an infant and suffers from life-long physical and mental disabilities as result
   Rick MacWilliam,

EDMONTON — Alberta toddler Taelyr Waluk has silky brown hair, chubby cheeks and a dazzling, often unexpected, smile.
Every day, she is surrounded by adults who hug and cuddle her.
But those adults don’t know if the three-year-old recognizes them because Taelyr can’t talk. She can’t hold her head up. She can’t eat. She can’t really see, though doctors believe she may have some peripheral vision. She can’t walk or crawl so her family uses a small wheelchair to transport her 30-pound body.
Taelyr was 10 weeks old when she was shaken and choked so violently she was left with permanent mental and physical disabilities. Her 23-year-old father pleaded guilty to aggravated assault last year and is scheduled to be sentenced for the crime on Monday.
Taelyr’s mother and maternal grandparents now care for the toddler in Sherwood Park, Alta., their lives transformed since that spring day when Taelyr was injured. At the time, doctors predicted the baby would die.
But Taelyr wanted to live, her family says, otherwise she would not be here. They’re grateful she made that choice.
Hailey Waluk is a 22-year-old mother with the weight of the world — or at least one very disabled child — on her shoulders.
During a visit with a reporter, Hailey cuddled her daughter, stroked her hair, and laughingly shushed her when the child, who has chronic lung problems, let out a surprising snort. She gently patted her daughter’s back.
“She’s spoiled rotten — naturally,” says grandmother Brenda Waluk with a wry smile.
Taelyr has started attending a special school and day care. She does therapy to get accustomed to putting weight on her feet. “She’s so much more happy now that she’s going to school and daycare,” Hailey says. “She’s so much more responsive.”
Taelyr suffers from cerebral palsy, resulting from severe brain damage, chronic chest and lung problems, and is fed through a tube in her stomach. Doctors, including a pediatrician, an ophthalmologist, a rehabilitation specialist and a brain surgeon, have regularly been part of her life.
Brenda Waluk says Taelyr has shown her family how to appreciate life. Still, the family faces tough challenges today, tomorrow, and the day after that. Will they secure funding for a portable feeding pump? How will Hailey go to school? Could they manage in a house of their own, even with a wheelchair ramp?
Taelyr was 10 weeks old in May 2008, a healthy 12-pound girl who was often dressed in pink.
For a short time after the birth of their daughter, Hailey and her longtime boyfriend, James Vanderham, stayed with her parents in Sherwood Park. On May 5, 2008, the couple moved into a home in Edmonton and spent their first night together watching Friends on TV until late, before falling asleep.
When Hailey awoke that morning with asthma symptoms, she drove to Sherwood Park to refill her prescription, and left Taelyr alone for the first time with Vanderham.
According to court documents, Vanderham called Hailey twice while she was gone. She answered one phone call and said, yes, it was OK to feed Taelyr. She missed the second call.
When she got home at 9:30 a.m. — about 90 minutes after leaving the house — she found her daughter pale and limp.
Vanderham said he didn’t know what had happened.
Taelyr was unconscious when she was rushed to the hospital. By 3 p.m. doctors determined her injuries were life-threatening: Taelyr had suffered a complex skull facture, retinal hemorrhaging in both eyes, a subdural hemorrhage, brain swelling and bruising on her lip and sternum.
In those first hours, in the blur of doctors and medical discussions, Hailey kept wondering what had happened, and how.
According to court documents, Vanderham told Hailey he had accidentally squirted formula into Taelyr’s eye. When he tried to wipe it away, he said, he poked the baby. He later repeated the formula scenario to medical professionals, and added that an X-box controller might have hit the baby’s head when he left the room to get some tissues.
Those were the first of several stories Vanderham would tell medical professionals and police. In an interview room at Edmonton police headquarters, a police officer confronted Vanderham about his explanation that an X-box controller might have struck his child.
That scenario could not explain the severe injuries, the detective said. Vanderham later suggested that Taelyr had fallen from his arms, hit the side of a couch, then tumbled onto the hardwood floor.
After three hours of questioning, Vanderham admitted he had shaken and choked Taelyr for several minutes to stop her crying after he had dropped her on the floor.
“That’s why I started choking her, just to choke her to be quiet. And then try to let go on the choke so she could breathe still,” he said, according to the court documents. “There was still wind going through her. She could catch all her breath. I just didn’t want to hear her crying anymore. It was hurting me.”
Vanderham, who is currently on bail, admitted he shook Taelyr hard, that he was frustrated and angry.
His lawyer declined to comment for this story.

When Brenda Waluk arrived at the Edmonton pediatric intensive care unit that day three years ago, she saw Taelyr with tubes coming out of her body.
“I was expecting a bump on the head and maybe bruising on the forehead,” she says. “I don’t think anyone can prepare you for what she looked like.”
Brenda, who works for the city and was contemplating retirement before this happened, tears up when she thinks of how her family’s life has changed.
“I think it’s knowing what Hailey has to live with and what Taelyr has to go through for the rest of her life. It’s something that could have been prevented. It’s a cowardly, cowardly act against a defenceless baby.”
Nine days after Taelyr was injured, the family decided on a “do not resuscitate” order because of the extensive brain damage. They stopped aggressive treatment.
“We decided that if she wanted to be here, she’d pull through. And if she didn’t, then she’d leave us,” Hailey says. “So it was all her choice.”

Of all babies who arrive at hospital with signs of “abusive head trauma,” the term used in medical and legal communities for what is more commonly known as shaken baby syndrome, between 25 and 38 per cent will die, estimates Dr. Melanie Lewis, a University of Alberta professor and former medical director at the Child and Adolescent Protection Centre.
When these children arrive at hospital, they often don’t show signs of injuries. Rather, worried parents rush them into the emergency department because they aren’t breathing or have gone into cardiac arrest. The parents have no explanations for why.
It’s only after doctors rule out other medical disorders and perform a head scan that symptoms of abusive head trauma might become evident — shearing injuries in the back of the eyes, or the tearing of tiny blood vessels in the head that causes blood to fill the area around the brain.
When a baby’s brain sloshes violently back and forth, it swells, and there’s nothing doctors can do but wait for the swelling to go down. Babies who survive are at risk for long-term complications, such as cerebral palsy, visual impairment, learning disabilities and development delays.
Doctors try to be as transparent as possible with parents who want to know what happened, Lewis says. If abuse is suspected, doctors report the incident to children’s services.
Lewis suspects many children are shaken by their parents but never come to the attention of doctors, and that only the most severe cases end up in hospital. These cases tend to occur in children aged six months to one year; crying is often the trigger for the violence.
“Of all the child abuse I deal with, I can understand shaken baby syndrome, and it’s not as traumatizing to me as other forms of abuse, and there are nuances to every case,” Lewis says. “But in most cases, the parent really loves their kid and they’re just at the end of their rope and there’s a lack of support or there’s a lack of knowledge for what’s normal for baby’s behaviour.”
Alberta Health Services has worked on awareness campaigns with the message: “Take a break, don’t shake.” It’s better for parents to leave their child crying in the crib than to risk losing control.
The problem, Lewis says, is that the message is often directed at mothers in hospital, when it should be directed to anyone who has contact with a child.

Hailey says she’s happy with the progress her daughter has made but knows other developments may take a long time. Asked if Taelyr might one day walk, she says, “There’s no end to the possibilities . . . I think it may be a goal somewhere down the road.”
Meanwhile, it’s impossible to for the family to ignore the day-to-day needs: securing funding for a portable feeding pump; juggling multiple doctor’s appointments; filling out countless forms required by various agencies. The medical care has been superb, they say, but the demands are constant.
Hailey says she hopes telling her family’s story may prevent other children from being injured.
“It’s important for me, because no child should have to go through what Taelyr went through, and I’d like to do everything I can to stop that,” she says. “You don’t know what happens behind closed doors . . . You have to look out for yourself and your family.”
At bedtime in the Waluk house, Taelyr — like most toddlers — will cry and fuss when she knows she’ll be put to bed. Hailey describes her daughter as spunky and thinks she knows how to play with adults more than they might ever suspect.
“She’s definitely changed me to become a better person,” Hailey says, adding that she’s more independent and more responsible than ever.
“I feel better about myself . . . I don’t need to make anyone happy but Taelyr.”

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