March 19, 2015

Shaken Baby Syndrome, Part 1

Articles by Dr. Erdman are for informational purposes, and are not to be taken as specific medical advice.

At the beginning of February of this year, Mr. Mahmoud Ibrahim was on trial for attempted homicide. He allegedly shook his 4 month old son, Ali, so severely as to cause brain hemorrhage and retinal hemorrhage. He was jailed on 1 million dollars bail in October of 2013, where he had remained until being acquitted in February. This man spent 13 months in jail for a crime he was just acquitted of committing.

He was committed to jail because Dr. Bellino, who treated Ali that fateful day, said Mr. Ibrahim was a child abuser, based solely on his observations and findings. During the trial Dr. Bellino testified “that the brain injury suffered by Ali was due to abusive head trauma and likely caused by shaking within an hour of Ibrahim making a 911 call for help on October 28, 2013, when his son began struggling to breath.”

It sounds logical until you really take a hard look at the reality of Shaken Baby Syndrome or SBS. Are there people out there who abuse children? Sure there are, and they need punished to the fullest extent.

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS from here on out), is defined as having a triad of symptoms. They are subdural hematoma (SH), Retinal hemorrhage (RH), and cerebral edema. SH is bleeding under the dura mater coverage of the brain; RH is bleeding of the retina of the eye; and cerebral edema is swelling of the brain. As you will see, these are not pathognomonic (definitive of only one condition) of SBS, they have many origins, unlike a cigarette burn on a child or a spiral fracture of a baby’s long bone; which are pathognomonic of child abuse.

SBS never appeared in literature until 1984. In 1946, research by Caffey showed a whiplash syndrome in children with the exact symptoms. All the way up through 2009, these symptoms were solely associated with neurological injury caused by trauma.

In 2009, the Academy of Pediatrics changed its tune, saying that SBS has the ‘potential’ to cause these injuries, leaving the door open for interpretation instead of a definitive definition.

Adding to the medical misinformation was a study done in 2010. It was purported to show the 4 major risk factors for SBS occurring in the population. The only problem is, as I’ve told you multiple times, you must know how the study was performed. In this instance it was a study done solely in North Carolina, and only had 80 cases studied. From that study we get these four risk factors for higher incidence of SBS: 1. Non-European American children. 2. Children born to mothers 21 and under. 3. Child being part of a multiple birth, and 4. Having a military parent.

Now think about this, the study was done in North Carolina. It is factual from the census that more nonwhites live there than on average in other states. So that fact alone annihilates that SBS occurs more in non-whites on average. In this study it did, but can you take that across the entire USA?

The last point that risk increases if one of the parents is in the military is also bogus. How many military bases are in North Carolina? 8 or 9 at least from my count! No wonder they were over represented in this study. Not to mention that I don’t believe for a second that our military personnel are more prone to supposedly shaking and injuring their own children!

The second point that it is more common if there are multiple births is supposed to tell you that twins, or more, are less cared for and more troubling on parents, so parents lash out. What it really shows is that multiple birth are far more complicated with far more complications than single births, and are far more likely to be in lesser health, initially, than single births.

This study extrapolates that there are about 1300 cases of SBS in America per year. According to some, that is 1300 cases of false prosecution and family persecution.  I’m no expert on this, but I can read.  And from what I read, more experts are decrying these cases as overzealous and misinformed, and based on bad science.

The article in “The Daily Item” on February 7, 2015, mentions a Dr. Galaznik who testified for the defense. It tries to portray him as a hired gun with no facts behind his testimony at all. They quote Dr. Bellino as saying that “Galaznik (and they don’t use Dr. in front of his name) is part of a ‘fringe group of 15 to 30 physicians and scientists who have a very small following’ who dispute SBS is real.” He says a majority of medical experts regard it as a reliable diagnosis. Dr. Bellino is quoted as saying, “the more cases this group wins, the more they’ll be able to testify in court.”

Now don’t get me wrong, if you abuse a child, you should pay the price. But, what if this really is a made up diagnosis, based on hypothesis and not facts? Since when is diagnosing a condition based on the consensus or majority of doctors. Obviously there is something wrong when there are other explanations for a medical problem, and some refuse to even consider them.  That is malpractice.

The National Shaken Baby Coalition claims that “a baby can fall three stories and not get a seriously injured as a shaken baby.” Proponents of SBS argue that absolutely nothing but shaking a baby can cause those injuries.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Like many advocacy groups, hyperbole reigns, truth gets stretched to fit the meme and emotions take over. Who wants to advocate for hurting babies? Obviously, no one. But these people do not tell you the whole story. The other side of the story says these same symptoms can appear with other serious medical conditions, including adverse reactions to vaccines, as well as vitamin deficiencies.

We will look at the other causes in the next edition of my column.