Miranda Hughes knew something wasn’t right with her four-month-old son, Averik.
“His eyes kept rolling back into his head and he was moaning in a way every time you would touch him that to me sounded like a dying animal,” Hughes said. “His arms and legs were semi-limp.”
Hughes had been at work on Sunday, August 14, 2011 when Averik’s biological father texted her, saying the infant wasn’t feeling well. After work, she returned home, saw Averik’s condition and took him to ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital. There, X-rays and a CT scan revealed month-old fractured ribs, bruising on Averik’s abdomen and back and bleeding in his brain.
Averik was rushed into emergency surgery. The injuries were ruled to have been the result of shaken baby syndrome — a form of physical child abuse resulting in head injury due to the violent shaking of an infant by the shoulders, arms or legs.
The Effects Of Shaken Baby Syndrome
Nearly all victims of shaken baby syndrome experience serious health consequences, with one out of every four dying from their injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“I later found out on Saturday night (the father) squeezed my son because he was crying,” Hughes said. “On Sunday, he was crying again and he shook him.”
Fingertip bruises were identified on Averik’s sternum, with thumb and palm print marks on his abdomen. Averik’s biological father was convicted of second-degree felony child endangerment and sentenced to four years in prison.
Today, four-year-old Averik is developmentally delayed, his most advanced development being language, which is nearly at the level of a one-year-old. He has hemiplegia (paralysis) of his right side. He cannot walk or sit up on his own and is transported in a wheelchair.
“Due to his delay and hemiplegia of the right side, he has poor posture which is causing a curve in his spine,” Hughes said. “He’s also developed juvenile arthritis due to non-motion in his body and joints.”
Averik, who has extremely low vision, has daily staring seizures, where his eyes don’t seem to be focusing on anything or anyone.
“His eyes drift off and roll back into his head,” Hughes said. “When you look at him, you can tell he’s not looking at somebody. He kind of spaces out.”
Due to the brain injury, doctors are unable to tell Hughes what kind of life Averik will have.
Hughes was largely silent on the situation for a long time for privacy reasons, but has recently decided to share her story, retelling it on a Facebook page focusing on shaken baby syndrome cases as well as speaking at a ProMedica conference on trauma.
“I want to help spread the word,” Hughes said. “If I can tell Averik’s story, then it could possibly save another child from going through it.”
Nikki Hubbard, a physician assistant with the pediatric trauma team at ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital, said that while it’s not always the case, many parents or caregivers of a baby may not have the education or resources available to them to make positive choices when they find themselves stressed out by a screaming infant.
“I’m an educated woman, and my kids put me to the brink of being insane,” she said. “But I was educated enough to leave them in the room, take a timeout or call a neighbor. I don’t think many people have that.”
In 2014, there were nine shaken baby cases involving brain injuries at ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital. Of those cases, three resulted in the death of the baby. All three were around the holidays (November through January).
In 2015, there have been 10 shaken baby cases reported at the hospital, with numbers not complete yet for December. The one death this year occurred in August. Other abuse cases involving infants include injuries such as bruising and fractures to ribs, arms or legs.
While stress can certainly peak around the holidays, any time of stress can be triggers for shaken baby syndrome, according to Michelle Meehan, social work manager for ProMedica.
“One year in December I had 13 cases of child abuse,” she said. “The next year, four. That is pretty subjective. More at risk is where there is change and stress combined. I had a case where dad was laid off and mom had to go back to work early from maternity — all unplanned.”
Speaking Out To Save Others
Hughes said she will continue to share her story as much as she can. “Shaken baby information is not out there as much as I believe it should be,” she said. “It’s happening way too often.”
The mother of two said she never thought her son would be in danger while under the care of his biological father.
“He never had violent outbursts,” she said. “I knew he had anger issues — he was very hot headed. But he had never shown any type of violence, either toward myself or my son. My gut told me that my son would be perfectly safe and taken care of by his father. There were no warnings that he would have ever done it.”
Meehan worked closely with Hughes as she went through the situation with Averik.
“It impacted her life so very much,” Meehan said. “She is amazingly dedicated to her son. Her life is not easy. She has embraced the day-to-day challenges of caring for a special needs child. In a situation of caregiving and loss of what you expected your son to be, she has risen and celebrates every small or large milestone.”