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Shaken: A Diagnosis on Trial

Welcome to Sue’s web site on shaken baby syndrome (SBS). The subject is both tragic and unsettling, in more ways than one.

First, I must make clear that child abuse is a real problem:  People do punch, slam, shake, and throw their children, with devastating results.

That said, more than a decade of research has convinced me that well-intentioned child-abuse experts working with a flawed model of a complex physiological condition are tearing apart benign families and sending innocent people to prison in unsettling numbers.

The widely accepted model of SBS suffers from two misconceptions:

  • Timing of the symptoms.  Classic thinking is that an assault violent enough to produce the symptoms of SBS would cause an immediate and dramatic change in the victim’s consciousness.  Therefore, the adult caring for the child when the breathing problems and seizures begin is presumed to be guilty of assault. But time has provided documented cases of the symptoms’ emerging definitively only hours after the injury. See, for example, the letter below.
  • Specificity of the symptoms.  Although doctors outside the child-abuse arena are now recognizing more and more medical conditions that can produce the same bleeding and swelling as SBS, the symptoms that define the syndrome can still result in conviction, even if the child shows  no bruises, grip marks, or other signs of an assault.
For a quick illustration of how an SBS diagnosis can go wrong, please see the Prologue to my book. For article-length treatments of other cases, with a bit of the science woven in, see Cases on this site. For a partial outline of the book and a handful of sample chapters, see the Outline. Check out my Posts for a brief history of SBS, more cases, and occasional news, and see the Resources page for advice if you’ve been falsely accused of shaking or slamming a baby.

If you’re eager for a detailed academic treatment of the subject from an authority with great credentials, see Professor Deborah Tuerkheimer’s first law-review article on the subject. For a quick summary, see her New York Times op ed piece from the fall of 2010.

2014 update:  Prof. Tuerkheimer now has a book out, Flawed Convictions:  Shaken Baby Syndrome and the Inertia of Injustice.

An example of medical professionals’ not recognizing the subtle symptoms of a fatal pediatric head injury across many hours of hospitalization:

 
The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology
© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
Volume 23(1), March 2002, p. 105

Symptoms Following Head Injury
(Letters to the Editor)

Huntington, Robert W. III M.D.
Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

To the Editor:

A recent proposed position paper regarding pediatric non-
accidental abuse head injury would allege that we may
depend on symptoms to appear immediately upon injury (1).
I have a concern about that claim, which I will explain
with the 

CASE REPORT

A 13-month-old Hispanic girl was brought to the  
University of Wisconsin Hospital on the morning of 
September 18, 1999. The complaint was of vomiting 
that had lasted for 24 hours. She was described as 
irritable, sleepy, and vomiting. In our emergency 
room she was noted to have extensive bruises on
the cheeks, chest, back, and arms; the mother attributed
these to bites by a 3-year-old housemate. She was 
admitted and given intravenous fluids. She was sedated 
with pantothal followed by head computed tomography, 
which was negative. She was then admitted to the 
pediatric ward. The resident who saw her described 
her in the chart and in discussion as being fussy and 
clingy, but interactive and responsive. Because of 
the numerous bruises, the police were notified
and took pictures.

At about 2:00 the following morning, a nurse coming in to
care for the child noted that she had decreased 
respirations. It was then shown that she was 
unresponsive and had a right dilated unreactive pupil 
with a sluggish left pupil. She was taken emergently 
to the pediatric intesive care unit, where she was 
intubated and given mannitol. A subsequent computed 
tomography scan showed very poor differentiation of
the gray/white matter interface. A Codman catheter 
was placed and then replaced with a ventriculostomy tube
after an intracranial  pressure of 21 mm Hg was noted.

On the evening of the day after admission, a cerebral 
blood flow study showed no cerebral blood flow. She 
was pronounced brain dead. In the interim, her mother 
had fled town and has not been found since.

An autopsy was done on September 20, 1999. This showed
hemorrhage in the left optic nerve sheath and left 
retinal hemorrhages as well as marked cerebral edema 
and thin widespread subdural hemorrhage. Diffuse axon 
injury was demonstrated with amyloid precursor protein 
antibody.

My point is that the child did have some symptoms, but 
clearly the severe intracranial injury symptoms, which 
were confirmed on repeat computed tomography and 
autopsy, were delayed for several hours, during which 
time she was under our view and review in the hospital. 
Others have noted similar problems (2).

Robert W. Huntington III, M.D.

REFERENCES

1. Case ME, Graham MA, Handy TC, Jentzen JM, 
   Monteleone JA. Position paper on fatal abusive 
   head injury in infants and young children. 
   Am J Foresnci Med Pathol 2001; 23: 112-22.
2. Gilliland MGF. Interval duration between injury 
   and severe symptoms in non-accidental head 
   trauma in infants and young children. 
   J Forensic Sci 1998; 43: 723-5.

copyright 2011 Sue Luttner

To leave a public comment on this site, please scroll down to the form after the other responses. To send a private message, use this space:

51 responses to “Home

  1. Rosemary Howley

    Congratulations on your new blog, Sue! I am glad to see you publishing your research in this format. Best wishes for its continuing success!

    Rosemary

  2. Jennifer Larson

    Perseverance is everything. The history of medicine, and the history of our fine criminal justice system, afford many examples of dramatic reversal of previously well-established thinking. The tide is turning.

    Jennifer

  3. Dear Sue,

    Good work.

    Best regards,

    Ed

  4. Excited to follow this new blog – a unique subject that is worth considering. Never a good idea to only have one side of this kind of story – your perspective is refreshing and will no doubt be of benefit to many.

  5. Fenton Johnson

    Hola, Sue! From drippy San Francisco. You’re off and running — more responses on your first day than I rec’d (6 or 7 to 1). This might well be a very good route to go, because of the power of the Web in pulling up your site when anyone enters the phrase. Best of luck. In the meantime, I have nose to grindstone in SF, but will send an email shortly re: a visit to PA.

    Fenton

  6. Ellen Shay

    I like the emphasis on the Miscarriage of Justice.
    The strong and laudable desire to protect children can unfortunately contribute to the effective lowering of the burden of proof and other legal protections that the accused are supposed to have in the US. The overconfidence and careerism of the medical profession in these cases certainly has helped wrongly convict innocent people.

    SBS and other things I might be accused of make me reluctant to care for anyone else’s children.

  7. Mary Coonen

    Sue, I love your blog and that you continue to be most determined in helping to connect the dots in this tragic arena. You have given people your ears, your brains and a voice, and you are helping make people consider “a different” possible cause for what seems to be, and sadly often is, SBS. I will continue to follow your work here.

  8. Joe Luttner

    I remember the Falcon, but this is not the place for that comment. Except to recall “Ford has a better idea!”.
    Very well presented.
    Should be helpful universally.

    This will roll.

    You Rock, Joe

  9. Sally

    This is a good forum for your work, Sue!

  10. John Lloyd

    Hi Sue,
    Your blog is informative, factual and a compelling read. Thank you for taking the initiative. Best regards,
    John

  11. John Fryer Chemist

    Good Luck on this new blog.

    After the FALSE imprisonment of Sally Clark and Angela Cannings was brought home to the UK Government they have responded by LYING about investigating other MISCARRIAGES of justice and defend the medical, industrial world by prosecuting hundreds of possibly innocent parents and carers every year. At the moment they are still condemning around 250 such families EVERY year in England in SECRET courts.

    One person who was badly treated was a MICHELLE DICKINSON who was given life in prison and to my knowledge has still been left to her fate.

    Bringing up a child next to a nuclear plant is fraught with DANGER as seen this year at FUKUSHIMA.

    But even though after Chernobyl the LYNCHING of Michelle got 17 awards to the police for their BIGGEST crime ever in the rural setting of a tiny village called SEASCALE. It never dawned on them that nuclear pollution does more than just cause LEUKEMIA. Sorry, they don’t even admit the obvious. No one ever dies if they work or live near nuclear facilities.

    Hence the background to a terrible MISCARRIAGE of justice for this lady and loving mother.

    In Japan we see the terrible health problems are of a wide and deadly nature.

    With real abuse even a cynic like me can see the EVIL but for a lot of the time abuse is caused by the medical and industrial Big p’Harmers and not by those loving parents who take the blame for harm by others and even so harm by them is kept secret or delayed from getting to public knowledge.

    They hide behind the fact that 100 per cent proof of vaccine harm or chemical harm is never possible while accepting zero percent proof of physical abuse as an open and shut case for the government prosecution teams.

    In Fukushima, children are now bleeding (from nuclear rays) but this was and is taken as proof of child abuse in many if not all cases of falsely accused child battering.

    Note: Michelle lived next door to SELLAFIELD.

  12. LuAnne

    Sue,
    So glad you’re doing this. Plesae add me to your notification list(s).
    Thank you,
    LuAnne

  13. Kathy Hyatt

    Sue,
    Bless you for all you are doing for those of us that were, are are, being falsely accused! People like you will make this injustice come to an end!
    Add me to your list, please!
    Kathy Hyatt

  14. Robomy

    1999 was the year me and my husband were accussed. This devastates lives more than anyone could imagine. This is a Great Page! Please add me to your list!

  15. Tammie Holt

    Sue,

    Looking forward to forthcoming notifications of your new additions to this welcome and intriguing blog!

    Tammie

  16. Karen

    My soon to be brother in law was just convicted of SBS and he is far from a child abuser! I am a nurse and believe me I know child abuse exist but he was convisted by jury and there was SO much doubt! We are looking around now trying to find experts and someone willing to appeal this case. This happened in Ga.

    • JohnFryer

      Hi Karen

      Write to me at johnfryer at orange.fr

      I have made a study of such cases and with others got the Witch Hunting reversed.

      So far with very little comeback to those who perjure for tens of thousands for no or very little work.

      If you look at one famous case where someone was convicted the experts couldn’t even get the colour of the child correct.

      This doesn’t stop convictions but does show that while it is good to convict the guilty it is so much nicer to convict the innocent. (Quote of several eminent Judges).

      Do you note that nearly all SBS cases revolve around children under 6 months and this is the time the child resembles a pin cushion at the “WELL” centres.

  17. Diane Helms

    Please continue to fight for those who have been unjustly accused.

  18. You should be organizing a march on Parliament to present your case.Get Lisa B to help, you.

  19. alexis murphy

    i have a 2 month old girl with two blood clots and a skull fracture. The doc is saying it is sbs but it simply cant be. Please help me find a cause before my husband gets wrongly convicted.

  20. I have written a book about our experience of a false allegation of Shaken Baby that nearly led to the removal of our children in the UK. The book “When Truth no longer Matters” details what happened and the eventual correct diagnosis for our son.
    I am working with Rioch Edwards-Brown, campaigner and founder of The 5%ers – a support group for wrongfully accused parents and we have set up an e-petition to try and get the UK Government to ensure there are better protocols to stop wrongful allegations and to stop abused children slipping through the net.
    Any support would be gratefully received and your can sign the e-petition here:

    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/39967

    Thank you!

  21. Gemma O'Donnell

    Hi there. I am currently on trial for this accusation so any support would be great. My case has been ongoing for 2 and a half years now :( x

    • I’m so sorry you’ve been drawn into this tragic arena. There is a group in Britain called the 5%ers, formed to defend parents against unfounded accusations of abuse. I’ve been unable to find a web site for them, but I received another comment earlier this month from a parent in Britain who mentioned them. You can contact her through her web site at http://www.searchfortruth.co.uk/index.html

      Best wishes.

  22. Hi Sue, I really appreciate your web site. My son has now spent 5 years in prison for SBS. The child is fine with no problems. How could this have been SBS? Our case is in the Supreme Court right now, but up to this point we ave lost every appeal. I am convinced that they know that my son was innocent and they will not give us a break. The detective even said on the stand that he blamed Brandon within one hour of receiving the call. He actually set out to pin this on my son, not try to find out the truth. If you will give our web site out that would be great. It is supportbrandon.com

  23. Angela

    Please help a father who was convicted and sentenced to Life in Prison for his 4mo old son’s death.
    Here is the link to the story and any information that could be any help is appreciated. He is doing an appeal but needs any and all help that anyone could offer. Thank you!

    https://www.causes.com/actions/1661910-help-free-michael-giovo-jr?utm_campaign=search_widget

  24. Michael Innis

    The Shaken Baby Syndrome and the morph used by the American Academy of Pediatrics – Abusive Head Trauma – is a diagnosis founded on opinion, not on Science. For a Scientific account of the condition Google

    Michael D Innis Autoimmunity and non-Accidental Injury in Children Clinical Medicine Research. MM-DD-2013, pp. x-x.

  25. Two issues.
    One the case of SIDS or crib death was thought to be murder or accidental suffocation a Cy ago as in the parent rolling over in her sleep onto the baby.
    Then it was a syndrome of accidental death with no known cause but a hundred theories firstly underdeveloped respiratory centre in the brain stem. Now in the UK it is again murder in 1O% accidental in 8O% unknown in 1O% +-.
    Horrible to miss murder even more horrible to accuse innocent grieving parents of murder.
    The same evolution of nosology or aetiology is paralleled by the SBS trauma X as we called it at Dal.
    First it doesn’t exist then it becomes a certainty of a syndrome BTW syndrome means we don’t know what the hell we are talking about just lumping together a few unknown facts and observations and guesses finally it become a medicolegal litigious football.

    I have a theory. As you may not know there are not only plants bacteria fungi and animals on this planet but new kingdoms of life. Extremophiles archaea chromista etc. These were discovered in the deep ocean trenches as they separate and spew forth hot magma.
    Hang onto your hats now they were also discovered in the human stomach!!!
    If we don’t look for something or don’t have the means to find them they don’t exist.

    Dr Norman Guthkelch mentioned it over a half a Cy ago that most of the subdural hematomata are caused not by trauma whether birth accidental or criminal but by meningitis or I presume encephalitis.
    Now that there are new unknown forms of life not fungi not viruses not bacteria is it not possible that the SBS triad of raised ICP subdural haematoma and retinal haemorrhage is simply due to these new infectious organisms? Extremophiles or chromista or archaea?
    The fussiness incessant crying and sheer cussedness of these babies is a sign of their illness or malady or disease prompting the parents to do unspeakable things to them. Given that extremophiles hang around the human stomach is it not possible that they inhabit the gut of colicky babies?

    BTW it turns out that most subdurals due to birth trauma resolve without a hitch as most retinal haemorrhages do. Normal unshaken and unstirred babies have indeed the supposed triad of SBS which is more of a cult than a science.

  26. As far as who was first Coffey or Guthkelch there was an MD in France about 185O or so who used the term sévisse which is not service but a rare word meaning physical abuse.
    The writers take the credit.
    Balzac has a less famous novel called Pierette which deals with child abuse and head injury in consequence.
    Then for those of you who read Hungarian a novel by Móricz called Árvácska.
    Both Pierette and Árvácska were beaten abused and suffered head injury as a result.
    I don’t suppose the term subdural haematoma was used by these great authors.

    Dickens also might be worth a try or even Hugo They have lots of suffering mistreated children in their novels.

  27. Michael Innis

    I have tried to explain to Guthkelth and his followers that what they call “Shaken Baby Syndrome” is in fact an Autoimmune Disorder, Tissue Scurvy, caused by vaccines and bacterial, viral and parasitic infections in genetically susceptible children.

    The Shaken Baby Syndrome is one example of Tissue Scurvy. I have posted other examples in the Rapid Response of the BMJ recently.

    Google – Autoimmunity and non-accidental injury in children – for a fuller account.

    If further explanation is required I am happy to respond.
    Michael D Innis FRCPA; FRCPath

  28. John Fryer

    Hi Sue

    Am back here because of Baby A from South Africa.

    Are you aware of this case?

    Can you EXPLAIN that letter (in your article) as it is not 100 per cent clear what you mean.

    Are you claiming that on arrival the signs for battering were ABSENT

    AND they appeared only a long time after?

    The timing is of course very very important.

    How do you put the time to when the battering or whatever event occurred?

    I say this because of cases where carers get the blame for harm.

    It is important for me that you explain this for a simple person!

    • Thank you for the chance to clarify.

      The signs of battering were present and documented when the child arrived at the hospital. She was then in the care of hospital staff for 18 hours before she developed breathing problems and seizures, followed by continuing deterioration and death. Unless you believe the night nurse shook the girl, there was a lucid interval between the incident and the obvious signs of brain injury. Even when surrounded by professional observers and subjected to multiple assessments, the patient was treated only for gastrointestinal problems.

      It does cast serious doubt on the theory that all fatal pediatric brain injuries are immediately obvious, an opinion I’ve read time and again in trial transcripts.

  29. Irwin

    Dear Sue:
    Thank you for starting this site. My son & daughter-in-law have recently been falsely accused of SBS. We are currently living this nightmare and fighting the battle of our lives. Even thought the CPS in NY, the first to make the accusation, has has closed the case as “unfounded” , the CT DCF’s chief witness & medical examiner said SBS could not be proved or disproved and an expert medical team has determined the issues are related to birth trauma, we have not been successful in getting DCF to close the case. We continue to look for more expert witnesses. Your site is very helpful. We want to make sure this does not happen to anymore innocent families. Please let me know how I can help.

  30. michelle

    Hi Sue,
    I’m wondering if you know of a good publisher for a SBS story? Thank you for your web site. Keep up the good work.
    Michelle

    • Thank you for the words of support, Michelle,
      I am sitting here right now working on (yet another) proposal. After years of pitching articles, I know one thing for sure: It’s a tough sell.
      If you’re writing about a case local to you, I’d suggest the area newspapers or regional magazines. They’re easier to get into than the national publications, and the local hook is very effective.
      I’m about to start looking into on-line forums as well. I think there are a number of sites that accept personal essays, if you can couch it that way.
      Please let me know if you succeed. Thank you for taking on this difficult but important topic.

  31. Karyn

    My son is being wrongly accused. We start trial next Friday and I am looking for an expert near Texas as we are not wealthy and can not afford to bring someone from out of state.

    • I’ve sent you a private message. Best wishes to your son and your family.

      • Michael Innis

        Karyn
        April 4, 2014 at 11:05 pm

        “My son is being wrongly accused. We start trial next Friday and I am looking for an expert near Texas as we are not wealthy and can not afford to bring someone from out of state.”

        Karyn I assume your son is being accused of Shaking a child to death. If so insist on seeing the Laboratory Reports where you will find evidence of an Autoimmune Reaction
        1 Urine – Glucose present
        2 Blood
        1 Glucose elevated
        2 Albumin reduced
        3 ALT elevated
        4 AST elevated
        5 SGOT elevated
        6 PT elevated
        Google Tissue Scurvy Misdiagnosed as Child Abuse -Michael D Innis

  32. Un gros merci à l’auteur du site web

  33. Michael Innis

    Karen doctors are misdiagnosing Tissue Scurvy and falsely accusing innocent parents of child abuse, If you send me the records of the Laboratory Investigations done on the child I will provide a report -pro bono
    and hopefully put an end to the inane diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
    Michael D Innis MBBS; DTM&H; FRCPA; FRCPath

  34. Tell your doctor if blood sugar was under control during the
    past three months, and the recording of Hb – A1c levels. I entered
    the hospital on bed rest and received steroid treatment to mature my baby
    faster. When you eat a lot of sugar and other refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes, your body eventually becomes
    resistant to the effects of insulin.

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