by Health Impact News/MedicalKidnap.com Staff
Like many Americans, Mary Sweeney and Cedric Roberts believed that Child Protective Services was made up of “the good guys,” the ones who protect children from bad parents who abuse their children. They didn’t realize that a trip to the emergency room puts normal, loving parents at risk of losing their children.
Mary wanted to make sure that everything was fine after a simple accidental injury, but the trip to the ER resulted in all 4 of their children being taken from them.
It could have happened to anyone.
The suburban Chicago couple spent the summer without their children, including infant twins, because a Child Abuse Pediatrician in another state has accused them of abusing one of their babies.
The doctor never saw the baby in person. A fracture the doctor diagnosed ended up being a glare on her screen. There was no fracture. It was a mistake.
Even so, Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) has not returned the children to their parents.
Mary and Cedric have been together for 16 years. The couple has a 9-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son, and twin boys who were born prematurely on March 24. Mary says:
We are nothing out of the ordinary but just a regular middle class family that goes to work, family functions, BBQs, kids activities, mini vacations, and doctors appointments. I coupon and love to shop the clearance rack.
Their nightmare began with something that has happened to almost everyone. The baby fell off the bed.
Mary Sweeney was arguably exhausted. She was 27 weeks along in her pregnancy when her water broke. Doctors ordered bed rest. The twins were born at almost 31 weeks, and they spent their first 6 weeks of life in the NICU.
Mary spent her nights at the hospital with the babies, from 10 or 11 pm till 5 or 6 am, when her husband could be home with the older children.
She did kangaroo care, holding them skin-to-skin for 2 hours each during the night. Then it was home to get the older 2 children off to school.
After homework, dinner, and bath time, they put the kids to bed and Mary returned to the hospital to start over again.
The babies developed necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a serious condition that can affect premature babies in which the intestines become infected and a portion of the intestine can die. It was a frightening time for the family.
The twins were loaded up on antibiotics, and they had over 100 x-rays during their hospital stay.
They got better and were able to go home when they were about 6 weeks old.
Mary went back to work as a server at the diner where she has worked for over 15 years. She got home in the wee hours of an early June morning.
Both babies woke up for their bottles around 3 am. Noah is the quicker eater of the pair, so Mary burped him and put him back to bed. After Camden finished, he was a bit fussy and seemed to have a tummy ache. The exhausted mom fell asleep with him on her chest as she rubbed his back to try to comfort him.
She awoke to a thud sound. Camden had rolled off of her and fell onto the hardwood floor.
Mary was horrified, beating herself up as she soothed him and checked him over from head to toe. She cried harder than he did. He calmed down pretty quickly, and Mary couldn’t find any sign of problems.
To the Emergency Room “Just to Be Safe”
Nonetheless, she called her aunt and then the babies’ doctor. Mary answered the doctor’s questions and checked his soft spot. Camden seemed to be fine, but the doctor recommended that she take him to the ER “to be on the safe side.”
Mary’s aunt went with her to take 2 1/2-month-old Camden to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois. It was June 3, 2018. The emergency room doctor checked the baby out and said that he appeared fine.
She gave Mary the option of having a CT scan done to be sure that there were no unseen injuries from his fall. She explained the benefits and risks. Mary wanted “to be on the safe side” and make sure that her baby really was fine, so she agreed to the scan.
What happened next was shocking. After the CT scan, a nurse came into the room and started an IV. Then, a doctor came into the room. She reportedly told Mary terrifying words that she will never forget:
Camden has bleeding all around his brain, and he just might die.
Mary collapsed to the floor, crying hysterically as the doctor left the room.
Another doctor came in and looked at the baby’s eyes. There was no flurry of activity, no mad dash of doctors coming into the room to save his life. Nothing. It didn’t make sense to Mary. She thought:
If my baby might die, why aren’t there a thousand doctors in here?
The next doctor who came into the room told her that she wasn’t going to like her very much. She told Mary that they were calling DCFS. Mary was told that the policy of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) was that Child Protective Services has to be called any time that a “non-ambulatory” child hits their head.
Pediatricians’ Policy Ensnares Innocent Parents
That statement appears to be an oversimplification of the AAP policy. However, the AAP Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect issued a policy statement in 2015 entitled, “The Evaluation of Suspected Child Physical Abuse,” in which author, Cindy W. Christian, states that:
General physical examination findings that suggest abuse include the following:
ANY injury to a young, preambulatory infant, including bruises, mouth injuries, fractures, and intracranial or abdominal injury
Significant injuries that are unexplained. (Source.)
Those parameters alone leave much room for non-abusive injuries, accidents, or unknown medical conditions to lead to innocent parents being accused of abuse.
Terror, Then Confusion
Mary frankly didn’t care who the doctors called as long as someone was going to do something to help her son. They had just told her that her baby was dying.
Her baby wasn’t dying, however.
A neurologist came into the room and told her that the amount bleeding around Camden’s brain was very small, and thus no surgery would be needed. He would need rest, but he would be fine.
After that, an eye doctor came in to look at Camden’s eyes. Likely he was searching for signs retinal hemorrhaging, something that Child Abuse Specialists frequently (inaccurately) attribute to being caused by nothing else besides child abuse. There was no retinal hemorrhage.
The eye doctor did, however, ask about Mary’s nationality, commenting how “gorgeous” baby Camden is.
DCFS social workers came into the room to ask repeatedly what the story was behind the injury. Mary had not had any sleep and was exhausted by this point. She had been terrified that her baby was going to die from falling off of the bed, but now the doctors did not seem to be concerned about his health.
Child Abuse Specialist Pediatrician Makes Everything Worse
Next came a Skype call with Dr. Terra Nicole Frazier. DCFS and the hospital called in a Child Abuse Pediatrician who was 500 miles away, located at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.
There was more shocking news to be delivered. Dr. Frazier informed Mary that Camden’s tibia was fractured. The x-ray showed a broken leg, the doctor told her, and it looked to be about 7 to 10 days old. She also said that there were:
concerns for head trauma other than the fall off the bed.
Mary says she was a wreck by that point, trying to figure out what could have happened to her baby. Could one of the other children have fallen on him? Had something happened when he was in the NICU that had been covered up? None of this made sense to her.
The Child Abuse Pediatrician wrote in her report that:
Mother seemed emotional and upset.
State Seizes Custody
Based on the evaluation of the out-of-state doctor who had never seen the baby, DCFS social worker, Ladonna, compelled Mary and her husband to submit to a “safety plan.” It was just for 48 hours, the social worker said, until they could investigate further.
All of the children were placed with relatives. Dr. Frazier said that she couldn’t give a full evaluation until a follow-up visit 2 weeks later.
48 hours without their children turned into 2 weeks.
On June 21, Mary’s birthday, DCFS Child Protective Investigator Mrs. Dunlap called Mary Sweeney with good news and bad news.
Doctor Made a Mistake
The “good news” was that Camden did not actually have a leg fracture. Dr. Frazier reportedly admitted to DCFS that she had seen a glare on the screen. There was no broken bone, just “a glare off the lighting inside the room,” which caused her to read the scan wrong and see a fracture that was not there. It was a mistake.
However, she went on to say that the brain bleeding had to be abuse.
Mary points out that there was no apology or remorse from the Child Abuse doctor for her mistake that threw her family into chaos.
By this point, the DCFS worker was skeptical. She wanted to get a second opinion herself, but she would have to get approval from the supervisor.
She also wanted the police to investigate. That requirement was incorporated into the safety plan. It took until July 2 for DCFS to notify the police that they need to investigate the case.
Cleared by Police
DCFS demanded toxicology and drug screenings. Those and the police investigation came back clear. An officer told the family that the children should be home by the end of the week.
That didn’t happen.
Another DCFS worker, Ms. Jackson, told Mary and Cedric that they needed to be patient, because they have a doctor who said it was abuse. When Mary countered with the fact that the police had cleared them, Ms. Jackson reportedly told the couple:
No, Ms. Sweeney, the criminal investigation has nothing to do with our case.
They never got a second opinion either. DCFS refused to approve a second opinion, and their 2 weeks have now surpassed 60 days. Their protocols state that Child Abuse investigations should end in 60 days.
Can Short Falls Cause Harm?
The primary assumption in baby Camden’s case by the Child Abuse doctor is the idea that “short falls” cannot cause the kind of brain bleeding that he has.
However, there are medical studies that have concluded that short falls can cause injury, up to and including fatal head injuries. According to a study published in the American Journal of Forensic Medical Pathology:
The author concludes that an infant or child may suffer a fatal head injury from a fall of less than 3 meters (10 feet). (Source.)
Chris Van Ee, PhD, points out that babies who are shaken violently enough to cause brain hemorrhaging would be “expected” to have neck injuries. (Source.)
Camden doesn’t. Nor do any other children whose parents have been suspected of Shaken Baby Syndrome or Abusive Head Trauma that Health Impact News has covered.
Dr. Ee testified in 2008 a court of law that:
today’s science cannot distinguish accidental from non-accidental impacts of falls of similar magnitude, barring extraordinary signs, e.g., grip marks or eye-witness accounts.
Steven Gabaeff, M.D., is a doctor of Emergency Medicine and Clinical Forensic Medicine. He analyzed research into Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) theory. Of one study, he states:
Yet Caffey and his cohorts presumed from the inception of the SBS theory that short falls could not produce adequate force to cause serious injury. This was incorrect. Now with both new and old research, some child abuse specialists will for the first time admit that short falls can cause serious injury, including SDH [subdural hematoma], and have recently acknowledged that RH and other retinal damage can occur with short falls as well. (Source.)
Prior Brain Bleeding
There are medical issues that have not been taken into consideration by DCFS or the Missouri Child Abuse doctor.
Camden’s medical records show that he was low in Vitamin D, which can contribute to subdural hematoma. He also had anemia of prematurity.
Both Camden and his fraternal twin brother, Noah, spent a month and a half in the NICU. The babies had some brain bleeding from birth.
This is not uncommon. They were almost 2 1/2 months premature. It is well established within the medical literature that brain bleeds are quite common in premature babies.
To date, no doctor or investigator has compared scans from Camden’s prior brain bleeding to those following his fall off of the bed, though it would seem a prudent course of action.
Dr. Steven Gabaeff points out the twisted logic of the American Academy of Pediatrics policies which are heavily influenced by Child Abuse Pediatricians.
There are over 2 million cases of subdural hematomas, or brain bleeding, in newborns within the United States each year. AAP policy says that all 2 million cases resolve on their own by the time babies are 5 to 8-weeks-old. Any bleeding after that point must by default be due to violent child abuse or to serious trauma such as a car accident.
See Dr. Gabaeff’s study:
Investigating the possibility and probability of perinatal subdural hematoma progressing to chronic subdural hematoma, with and without complications, in neonates, and its potential relationship to the misdiagnosis of abusive head trauma
This logic more closely resembles magical thinking than serious scientific analysis.
Gabaeff also says that rebleeding in places of previous brain bleeding is common and that:
crying, vomiting, or even normal handling have caused observable, often symptomatic episodic rebleeds. (Source)
He criticizes doctors who jump to accusations of abuse in such cases, saying that:
the awareness that hygroma and CSDH are known to rebleed spontaneously or with minor forces, should impact the analysis of findings to avoid misdiagnosing abuse.
Accidental injury, such as Camden’s head injury when he fell off of the bed, can and does cause rebleeding, according to Gabaeff.
The likelihood that a parent with no prior history of abuse or violence would suddenly cause harm to their child is very low. He writes:
Integrating an exculpatory social history, one of the most reliable indicators of non-abuse , further favors a non-abuse explanation over highly improbable clandestine abuse by previously loving parents.
The actual probability of … abuse by previously loving caregivers with no history of violent behaviors toward children, should be recalculated in view of a basic statistical analysis in that population which demonstrates that the probability of an anomalous act of abuse (“snapping”) in a population of nonabusive, caring and loving parents, to be virtually 0%.
Discharge Diagnosis – Mild Concussion
Baby Camden was discharged from the hospital the same day he went in, but he didn’t go home to his family. The discharge documents paint a very benign picture that stands in stark contrast to the drastic actions taken by DCFS under the advice of the Child Abuse Pediatrician in Missouri:
Your child presented to the ED with closed head injury. For these concerns, a head CT scan was ordered which was negative.
Your child has been diagnosed with a mild concussion. This is not life-threatening.[Emphasis added by HIN.]
Camden’s parents want him and his siblings home. All 4 children are suffering from abuse by the state in being separated from their parents. Even short separations between parents and children can be extremely harmful to children. DCFS has given no indication as to when or if the children will be returned home.
“False Allegations of Abuse Are Abuse”
Dr. Gabaeff’s conclusions are profound and should greatly impact the thinking of all those who investigate child abuse:
False allegations of abuse are abuse.
Misdiagnosis, leading to false allegations and legal proceeding, devastates families and the very infant patients’ lives that we all work diligently to protect. Families and children are thrown into chaos. It is essential that child abuse pediatricians fully understand the consequences of past and future misdiagnosis of medical problems and accidents as abuse. Continued resistance to evidence-based research, both old and new, that undermines the existing constructs of child abuse medicine, endangers families.
If an expanded understanding of these issues by child abuse pediatricians is not possible, then other participants in the legal process (our other medical colleagues, Judges, DA’s, police, social workers and defense attorneys) must take the time to study and analyze these issues themselves and apply common sense and their newly acquired knowledge to insure justice is served.
Each of us must realize that a body of exculpatory evidence based complexity, concealed under a cloak of dogma and zealotry, must be uncovered and incorporated into a willing embrace of the ever emerging, more sophisticated knowledge of the intricacies of the human neurophysiology and neuropathophysiology.
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