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August 15th, 2008
02:53 PM ET

Shaken baby tragedy

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/15/art.baby.jpg]
Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

A few years ago, a woman called me in the middle of the night to tell me her son-in-law had been taken to jail. This was a woman I knew pretty well, and I was stunned to hear the story she proceeded to tell me. Her grandchild (his daughter) had been found unconscious at the house and taken to the hospital. Doctors there quickly figured out the child had been shaken. Just a few months old, her little neck muscles had not been strong enough to stabilize her head, which in young children is relatively bigger with respect to their bodies. She developed a blood collection on her brain and shearing of small blood vessels deep inside. Ultimately, she never recovered; she died in her mother’s arms. The little girl’s dad had been the only one in the home and subsequently admitted to handling the child in a rough manner when she was persistently crying.

In a moment of anger, he had killed his child and essentially sentenced himself to imprisonment. As a dad, I can’t imagine the incredible grief he is still suffering today, so many years later. As a neurosurgeon, I have seen this story play out more times than I care to remember.

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Filed under: Dr. Sanjay Gupta • Parenting
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Jackie MC Donald

    I think people who shake their baby should be put in jail or should never have a baby again babies are so small that they don't know to stop crying.

    parents should hold their babies

    August 17, 2008 at 11:12 pm |
  2. Rose from Southern Calif

    Dr.Janjai

    I don't feel sorry for the father he knew what was happening the child was crying, why? Maybe the baby needed to be changed, feed or hold. Whatever the reason he was an adult, the protector of this baby when the mother wasn't around... There should be a law that every couple or person should take parenting and baby-sit children for a month and see if there ready for parenthood. And if they pass the test then they can have children. Our children should be treated like a box of Treasure's that they are. Not like trash!

    August 16, 2008 at 3:22 pm |
  3. Annie Kate

    Poor baby – she deserved better than what she got. And I feel for the mother. But for the one that shook and killed the baby I don't have any compassion at all – someone that can't control themselves and take it out on a helpless innocent child deserves whatever grief and punishment they receive.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 15, 2008 at 9:44 pm |
  4. Janna

    In 2004, I gave birth at NYU Medical Center in NYC. During my stay, I was given a folder full of literature which included at least one warning about this issue. I knew about it already, but this seems like a cost effective & simple way to cut down on the ignorance. It really should be mandatory in every state. Of course, knowing about it is only part of the issue, but it could definitely cut back somewhat on these tragedies.

    August 15, 2008 at 9:32 pm |
  5. Michael J.

    This is indeed a sad story, three lives totally changed forever ( a child gone so young in the blink of an eye ) because of anger that in some people knows no bounderies and has no mental – emotional balance because of the individual's pressures in life...

    Preventive messures can be just as powerful as the cure. The emotional medication being given in the form of support – support groups .. Even then some children fall because of rage by some parents – babysitters- grand parents and so on not to mention the fact that there are more people on earth there are more sad situations like this and in other violent forms .

    August 15, 2008 at 8:15 pm |
  6. george

    Hmm, a great real world solution – someone who doesn't have the foresight to anticipate a moment of frustration will instead choose not to procreate in the first case.

    If you read about shaken baby cases for a few years, you'll find that every kind of person has shaken a baby – police officers, teachers, nurses, lawyers...even doctors.

    Being a new parent is a potent mix – sleep deprivation, anxiety, perhaps post-partum depression, coupled with parents who have less and less experience and knowledge about caring for infants, whether garnered by raising siblings or babysitting.

    The most effective solution? A simple education program for new parents that teaches them about the vulnerability of young children to shaking injuries, and how they can help protect their child by ensuring other caregivers are aware of that vulnerability and have a simple coping plan.

    It started at Children's Hospital of Buffalo, New York in 1998 and the incidence of inflicted head injuries has declined by 50% since then.

    Several states have adopted laws requiring hospitals to offer that education to new parents. So far, those states only account for about1/3 of US births.

    August 15, 2008 at 7:09 pm |
  7. Ilona, Tempe, AZ

    Sanjai

    Having worked with children and families for many years I can only emphasize how important is it to inform new parents to never, ever shake a baby. The ones who survive the shaking won't be able to lead a normal life due to severe delays caused the brain injury.
    If the perp is identified he or she wil spend the rest of their lives in prison. A few years back a young Arizona mother was sentenced to some 120+ years in prison for shaking her quadruplets, leaving them paralyzed, deaf and blind and on feeding tubes.
    Hospitals do a lousy job in preparing new parents before the baby is discharged and providing a manual certainly beats doing nothing.

    August 15, 2008 at 7:00 pm |
  8. Michelle, CA

    Dr. Gupta,

    Well, it sounds like you know him, and I don't think you'd be so much on his side if you didn't know he was a good guy who made a mistake. But I'm trying to understand it.

    My son died when he was fourteen months old, because his body couldn't process copper. I was a single mom, taking care of a dying baby, and one of his symptoms was irritability. With all his meds, and appointments, and seizures, I had very stressful moments, because of all that coupled with grieving him at the same time, it was hard. Some days I just wanted to crawl under a rock, or scream, or cry, or throw something. For a year the minute I'd get peace at all, he'd cry. He'd cry until he turned blue or passed out (it wasn't intentional, his brain was like a newborn's). He couldn't control it, I couldn't control it. But I never shook him. He was my son. I didn't need a book to tell me that.

    I'm trying to understand it, I really am. Parents feel guilt for losing their children even if they're not responsible, just for outliving them, so if he does have have that much grief I can't imagine what it's like either. My best thoughts go to the baby's family.

    August 15, 2008 at 6:33 pm |
  9. sara.ro

    It's so sad storry,but I can't understand how is possible this , cuz here in Europe we have learned from american websites that it's not allowed to shake babies ,especially newborns or until 3 y o(when they starts to shaken themself enough with them play)...

    August 15, 2008 at 5:51 pm |
  10. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    Poor sweet baby. I feel so sad for his mom, siblings, and others who loved him. Mostly, I feel so sad for his dad who will always have to live with the guilt of killing his boy. My prayers are with all of them. I cannot even imagine.

    August 15, 2008 at 5:08 pm |
  11. kathi in ky.

    "I can’t imagine the incredible grief he is still suffering today, so many years later."

    Well, I for one, hope it's HORRIBLE. He should be shaken EVERY single day like he did his baby. Sorry, no sympathy here.

    As for an instruction manual??? How about mandatory sex education/birty control in schools...starting earlier... ESPECIALLY for the religious people who are completely out of touch and tend to "sheild" their children from real life. THEY are the ones that end up pregnant at 15.

    August 15, 2008 at 4:44 pm |
  12. Melissa, Los Angeles

    An instruction manual on how not to shake a baby??? How about an instruction manual of what it takes to raise a baby BEFORE one is ever created? For anybody to shake a baby because it's crying is proof that they are not ready to be a parent. It requires a lot of patience and if the person doesn't have it – don't procreate! I don't feel bad for any of these parents who have shaken their babies and are now incarcerated – they knew better.

    August 15, 2008 at 3:18 pm |