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I-Team looks into reports of shaken baby syndrome

Updated: Saturday, May 24, 2014 |
I-Team looks into reports of shaken baby syndrome story image
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - With several high-profile cases centering on child abuse charges related to shaken baby syndrome in courts across West Michigan right now, the Newschannel 3 I-Team is taking a closer look at the science both prosecution and defense depend on.

A pediatrician at Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids told Newschannel 3 that unfortunately all pediatricians are confronted with shaken baby syndrome on a regular basis, but the medicine only goes so far toward proving child abuse.

She says doctors must become detectives themselves.

We examined the issue through the case of war vet Anthony McFarlane and his baby Kaydence.

"Anthony took the girls over to his mothers house where she was going to watch them," said Kaydence's mother Dakota Chitwood.

She adds that while there, Kaydence started having seizures, so her grandparents drove her to the hospital.

"Whenever I got there, I walked in to Kaydence seizing," Chitwood said. "That was the hardest thing I've ever seen."

Three months later, McFarlane was charged with first degree child abuse.

"You have the doctors from the children's hospital try to put a time as to when the injury occurred and then the police officers charge based upon that information," McFarlane's new attorney Elias Muawad said via phone Friday.

Muawad says he's argued in more than a dozen cases that the process is a crapshoot.

"It's not an exact science, and to try to pinpoint the exact time that this child was hurt, if it was shaken baby, in my opinion is virtually impossible," he said.

So we went to Spectrum Hospital to talk to pediatrician Dr. Abeba Berhane.

"It's a very difficult one to diagnose, because some times it can go unnoticed for a few hours, up to a few days," she said.

Dr. Berhane says pinpointing the time and cause of injury is a challenge.

"You can have accidental head trauma that can occur, you can have bleeding disorders," she said.

Back in December, doctors told Chitwood that they found the left side of Kaydence's brain was completely underdeveloped--a situation they attributed to strokes she suffered while in the womb.

"Any time you have damage to the brain, shaken baby syndrome, stroke, hypoxic injury; all those things can show up as brain injury," Dr. Berhane said.

Dr. Berhane says that's why the story becomes very important, as do other injuries the child may have suffered such as bone fractures and contusions.

For example, according to family, baby Kaydence had a healing spiral fracture in her leg when doctors suspected shaken baby syndrome.

This is one of the things McFarlane's attorney says  his experts will discuss in court.
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