Monday, May 23, 2011

Boy faces years of recovery after dad's abuse 9 years ago (Fort Wayne, Indiana)

Odd little article. We find out this boy suffered serious abusive head trauma when he was only 2-months old and "in the care" of his father, RYAN WOODWORTH. But there is NO explanation as to how he ended up in his father's care. Was Mom working? Was this a custody/visitation issue? We don't know. And it's quite curious really, because there is NO MENTION OF MOM AT ALL. In fact, we're told--in a pretty obtuse fashion--that the boy's current caretaker obtained custody from "another family member." Was that mom? I'm thinking not, or the reporter would have said so. So how is it that the mother of this infant--who must have been around at least two months before when the baby was born--is erased so completely from this story? It's as if this baby were delivered by stork or found in a cabbage patch.

But notice that the Allen County prosecutor does bring up a politically uncorrect truth. Which is that many of these abuse cases are caused by "a single mother [who] leaves her baby in the care of a young father, with little to no parenting skills and a short fuse." Which is an interesting way of phrasing it, because it blames the mothers rather than the abuser dads. And yet we continue to push for more father custody/visitation with infants--whether Mom likes the idea or not? We continue to encourage "stay-at-home" (i.e. unemployed/unemployable) dads to replace working moms in the home? And then not allow the moms to leave these deadbeats without threat of a custody fight?

Published: May 22, 2011 3:00 a.m.
Seconds of shaking, years of recovering
Family faces struggles as result of dad’s abuse 9 years ago

Rebecca S. Green | The Journal Gazette

Drake Woodward, 9, is a survivor of a shaken baby case that resulted in his father’s imprisonment. Here, he is with his sisters Landis Embury, 6, left, and Olivia Embury, 4, at Lakeside Park. Drake Woodward looks like most 9-year-olds, maybe a bit on the slender side.

What you can’t see when you look at the boy with sandy hair, sly smile and glasses, is what he’s been through.

What’s he’s been through is often fatal, and many more children who survive do so only technically, with brains so severely damaged they cannot function.

And what happened to Drake nine years ago takes the life of nearly one child every day across America. But for those who survive, it causes untold damage to developing brains that lead to a lifetime of difficulty.

Drake was once a shaken baby.

In March 2002, 24-year-old Ryan Woodward had care of his 2-month-old son, Drake. At some point, Woodward shook the baby so violently he caused retinal hemorrhages to both Drake’s eyes and brain damage.

Woodward eventually pleaded guilty to a Class C-felony charge of battery and in 2004 was sentenced to five years in prison and his parental rights were terminated. According to the Indiana Department of Correction, he was released in 2008.

When Jackie Embury, 37, obtained custody of Drake from a family member, he could no longer swallow or see. He suffered from cerebral palsy. She had to take him to the doctor every week to have a needle inserted in the soft spot on his head to allow a buildup of fluid to be removed. His brain bled for weeks.

“That just went on forever; … his whole infancy,” Embury said. “He was blind. There was no surgery that could fix it. It was during that summer, four months after it happened, I remember saying, ‘He can see me.’

Everybody was like, ‘Jackie, stop.’ ”

But he could see, something doctors called miraculous.

Embury said there was evidence that Drake was shaken twice as an infant, the first time when he was about 8 weeks old and then again at 10 weeks.

“It’s oftentimes hard to prove who did it,” said Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards, who did not prosecute Drake’s abuser.

“You can prove something happened, … but children come into contact with so many people during the day,” she said.

In Drake’s case, the second shaking drew the criminal charges. No one was ever identified as having committed the initial act, though a scan of the baby’s brain confirmed the earlier injury.

“Once the damage is a couple of days old, they can’t pinpoint what time or what day,” Embury said.

When she heard what happened, Embury stepped in, not wanting Drake to enter the child welfare system.

Doctors told her he’d likely never regain his sight. Children with brain trauma like that don’t survive.

When it became clear he would survive, they told her she was in for a lifetime of heartache in caring for this baby who would grow up with special needs, many yet unknown.

“Back then, I used to say, ‘You’re full of (expletive),’ ” Embury said of her conversations with the doctors. “But the older he gets, the more you realize what it is. I guess it was denial.”

Lifetime of issues

Injuries such as those suffered by Drake were long characterized by the medical community as “shaken baby syndrome.”

But such a term is remarkably imprecise and therefore unacceptable in a community where precision is needed, said Dr. Antoinette Laskey, a forensic pediatrician with Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.

While the term “shaken baby syndrome” is still used to communicate with the public because it is the phrase with which most people are familiar, to doctors and medical personnel, the term now is “abusive head trauma.”

The term is more inclusive and precise.

“This kind of injury is something that ends up in the judicial process,” Laskey said.

The term also includes injuries that are inflicted in other ways, such as striking a child in the head.

Head injuries, such as in Drake’s case, can have a cumulative effect.

Head trauma builds upon head trauma and how the child is affected will not be known for years.

It did not have to be that way, Laskey said. In these cases, there is a distinct “before” and “after.”

“They woke up that morning normal, and now they’re going to have deal with this the rest of their lives,” Laskey said. “We have kids who were normal kids who were irreparably damaged by someone else’s lack of impulse control. … Someone changed the course of that child’s life at that point they lost their temper.”

When looking at the trajectory of kids who don’t die, we’re looking at the beginning of their issues, Laskey said.

And the issues will last a lifetime.

“We always tell families, foster families, the system, they look OK now, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to look OK five years from now,” Laskey said.

The full effects are not known until more is required of the child, she said.

Life gets harder

That’s how it’s been for Drake, Embury said.

With each grade, school gets a little harder. There’s more information to retain. He has to pay attention for longer periods of time and remember lessons his brain can’t seem to hold onto.

“He gets frustrated really easy,” Embury said. “School is really hard for him now. He can’t keep up with second grade.”

If you ask him what his favorite subject is, he’ll say “going outside.”

When he is outside, he plays and he runs, often re-enacting scenes from his favorite video games.

Embury said Drake loves to play sports, but soccer is a bit easier for him than basketball. Riding a bike has not been mastered yet, but he has a scooter.

Drake gets help from special education teachers and can’t do the same homework his classmates are doing.

“I’ve instilled in my kids since the day they were born they were going to go to college,” Embury said. “With Drake, I don’t know. I’m just hoping that Drake can get a diploma. That’s the goal.”

The frustration, and the brain trauma itself, leaves him prone to anger. He’s loving but quick to lash out, Embury said.

He has impulse-control issues and his behavior often seems like that of a younger child, she said.

Because of the cerebral palsy, which is not noticeable unless he is tired or stressed, his coordination is poor. He frequently takes hard falls, walks into sharp corners and generally bangs himself up. If you rustle his hair, Embury said, you’ll see a scalp lined with scars from many staples and stitches.

“He’s tough,” she said. “He has no fear.”

‘I’m still angry’

Embury is obviously angry about what happened to Drake. And she’s angry at the man who injured him and could probably see herself inflicting a similar injury on him if given the opportunity.

“It’s been nine years in March, and I’m still angry,” she said. “I get better. But when I see the neighbor kid who’s 9 years old crossing the street by himself and … I have to stop and think wait, he’s normal. He’s not Drake.”

Parents have to be careful about with whom they leave their children. Such injuries are entirely preventable, Prosecutor Richards said.

Richards said she frequently sees cases in which a single mother leaves her baby in the care of a young father, with little to no parenting skills and a short fuse.

“They lose their temper and shake the child,” she said.

Locally, SCAN (Stop Child Abuse and Neglect) works to educate parents about the dangers of all types of abuse and how to find ways to cope with the stress of parenting.

But sometimes the damage done to children in shaken baby cases is caused by the family members or friends with whom SCAN did not have contact, said Jennifer Boen, SCAN spokeswoman.

One difficulty in educating parents about shaken baby cases, borne out by literature analyzing the confessions of abusers, is that shaking a baby works initially, Laskey said.

That’s because the initial concussive event makes the child go quiet, she said.

Boen agreed.

“In many cases, the brain has already started to swell,” Boen said. “The next time you may do it a little stronger. Parents say, ‘Wow, the baby went to sleep.’ ”

All seem to agree: Education is key, even if it has been repeated over and over again.

“We really have to do a better job of educating parents that crying is normal,” Laskey said. “Walking away from a crying baby is not a bad thing. Shaking a baby is something you can’t take back.”

There is no undoing what happened to Drake. He’s come so far, though.

“He’s beat all the odds. Drake was supposed to die,” Embury said. “He did die, and they brought him back.”