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Shaken Baby Syndrome-Michael's Story
Bringing Awareness to the Dangers of Shaken Baby Syndrome
by Phil Gonzales, Public Awareness Associate
Michael Field throws open the front door and, in a fluid movement, grabs my hand and pulls me into the living room.
"Do you like Justin Bieber?!" he demands.
"Yes?" I answer.
"Great! Do you want to see one of his videos?"
For the next ten minutes, I sit and watch him navigate through various music Web sites until I become sure he's forgotten I'm there.
"Michael?" I ask.
"Michael? Do you know why I'm here?"
"For my interview!" he says without looking up.
Michael Field is an energetic young man, to say the least. He pounds the drums, blows furiously into a recorder and enthusiastically demands that everything in his house be documented with my camera.
But, his disability is obvious. His left side shows signs of deficiency: he drags his left foot and has no use of his left hand. He lacks impulse control and fails to pick up on social cues.
Michael's brain injury is a result of being repeatedly shaken at six months of age by a daycare provider.
"She was in her 30s," Angela Field tells me, "and was charged with malicious punishment of a child and third degree assault. She served five and a half months in jail and is on probation for 20 years. She basically got a slap on a wrist. It's a hard pill to swallow."
Angela and her husband, John, had been meticulous in choosing a daycare provider for their baby. Angela interviewed this provider three or four times and had introduced newborn Michael to her as soon as possible. She had three kids of her own and a little baby herself. Everything seemed fine.
"It was odd," Angela says, "because he was a very calm baby; not colicky or fussy and was only there three days a week. Three and a half hours a day."
There were two incidents the family knows of for sure. "The first time, we knew there was something wrong with him and we brought him to the doctor. They thought, 'Oh first time parents! He's just a little fussy. He has a virus or an ear infection.'
"Then he started getting better and a couple of weeks later I drove to her house to pick him up and he was already in the ambulance."
Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is the leading cause of child abuse death in the United States. Every day, three to four children are victims of SBS. While more perpetrators are biological fathers, stepfathers and mothers' boyfriends, anyone caring for a child can commit SBS.
SBS occurs spontaneously, usually as a result of a caregiver's frustration due to excessive crying on the baby's part. If you feel like you might be on the verge of losing your temper with an infant, The Centers for Disease Control recommend placing the baby in a safe environment (e.g. a crib or play yard) and leaving the room, checking back every five minutes. The CDC also stresses the importance of asking for help from a friend or family member if the crying gets to be too much and keeping in mind that it will get better.
Michael was a little baby, shaken black and blue. His face was swollen, unrecognizable. His infant brain was irreversibly damaged. And he was lucky to have survived. One in four victims will die as a result of their injuries.
I ask Michael's little sister, Julia, about life with Michael.
"It's hard being nice to him sometimes," she tells me. "But, I like being his sister. For some reason, though, my friends don't like to come to our house."
"Our family is a little bit different," Angela adds, "but she's mature for her age. If anyone picks on Mikey, she's right there to defend him. Of course, it's a love/hate relationship, like any brother and sister. But, she never went to day care. I quit my job and stayed home from day one. And, if they have kids one day, then grandma will take care of them. I've lost my trust. It's gone."
Michael does physical, occupational and speech therapy at Courage Center. At home, his parents do a lot of stretching and range of motion work. He constantly works on left-side awareness and correcting his gait and peripheral vision.
But, he also keeps active outside the house. Michael belongs to the Miracle League of Minnesota – a baseball league for children with disabilities. He enjoys playing pitcher the most, but will fill in wherever he's needed. He is obsessed with the Minnesota Twins and has a wall of bobble heads to prove it.
And, as his childhood friends get older and more likely to turn Michael away when he comes over to play, Michael has found friendship in other children with disabilities.
"He has a friend, Sam, who has autism. Watching them play, seeing Michael laugh and act like a normal kid with someone, does this mom's heart so much good."
The Fields have made it their mission to raise awareness of Shaken Baby Syndrome. They became involved with the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance early on, joining one of the first Walk for Thought's as a way to bring Michael's story to a wider audience.
"We've done a lot of advocacy work through high schools and John did a lot of legislative work trying to pass a bill to educate parents on SBS."
Michael eventually paraded me through his and his sister's rooms. I got to see them tumble around the house, singing together, playing instruments and putting on a spontaneous news program. In many respects, he is a healthy, rambunctious ten year old boy.
And Michael continues to improve every day.
"It's hard for me to see, but people who haven't seen him in a while say his gait and vocabulary have gotten better over time. It's still hard to talk about. But, he's done so amazingly well. The brain is amazing. Michael could regain the use of his hand one day. You never know."
But, the fact of the matter is, Michael's brain injury hangs over everything he does.
"I tell parents to go with your gut if you feel like something is wrong. I wish I would have gone with mine. You know your child best and if you feel like something isn't okay, nine times out of ten you're right.
A lot of people don't get it. It's just a few seconds of shaking. That's all it takes. It's sick and it's 100 percent preventable and there's no reason for it."
Prevention is the only key – never shake a baby!
If you have questions about Shaken Baby Syndrome, please contact the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance at 612-378-2742 or 800-669-6442.
If you believe yours or another child is the victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome, call 911.
If you have concerns regarding the welfare of a child, please contact your local County Child Protection office which can be found here.
All information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Brain Injury Association of America