[Shaken Baby Syndrome]
NEWSDAY (May 28,1998).
IT'S NOT SHAKEN-BABY CASE. Charges dismissed, parents get permanent custody of son.
Judge: It's Not Shaken-Baby Case / Charges dismissed, parents get permanent custody of son, 2
Karen Freifeld. STAFF WRITER
A Queens Family Court judge ruled that Long Island Jewish Medical Center wrongly diagnosed shaken-baby syndrome in a Cambria Heights toddler, prompting authorities to "unnecessarily remove" the boy from his parents' custody.
"The overwhelming weight of the credible expert testimony was that this was definitely not a case of shaken-baby syndrome," Judge Rhea Friedman wrote in her decision Tuesday dismissing the abuse charges the city brought against the parents of 2-year-old Sem Jean-Baptiste.
"It is tragic that this child spent a substantial portion of his young life, over five months, needlessly in foster care," Friedman said.
The decision by Friedman returns permanent custody of Sem to his parents. But LIJ yesterday stood by its diagnosis that Sem was the victim of violent shaking that leads to brain damage and sometimes death. "There's no doubt . . . the diagnosis made here was correct," said Dr. Philip Lanzkowsky, chief of staff of Schneider's Children's Hospital of LIJ, in a telephone interview.
Sem arrived at LIJ by ambulance May 9, 1997, after his mother, Celeste Jean-Baptiste, called 911 and said he was having a seizure. Five days later, she and her husband, Eddy, expected Sem to be discharged. Instead, they were accused of violently shaking their son, and the city's Administration for Children's Services placed the toddler in foster care and began a Family Court proceeding.
LIJ made the diagnosis after discovering that Sem had retinal hemorrhaging and subdural bleeding, which are associated with shaken-baby syndrome.
However, the judge said, "It was far more likely that Sem's hemorrhages were associated with his other medical problems." A premature baby who was born weighing 1.9 pounds, Sem suffers from eye and pulmonary problems, chromosonal abnormalities and hydrocephaly.
Friedman said the city had relied on the testimony of two doctors affiliated with the hospital to make its case that the Jean- Baptistes had abused their son.
Earlier this year, a court-ordered expert testified he did not believe Sem was the victim of shaken-baby syndrome. Nor did a pediatric neurologist who testified for the parents.
"LIJ had never had the records or films examined by a pediatric neurologist," the judge wrote. "At best, a fellow in neurology, i.e., a doctor barely out of his residency, had made a cursory review of the films at the inception of the case . . . This oversight by LIJ was unconscionable."
However, Lanzkowsky said yesterday that five physicians, including a pediatric neurologist, were involved in the diagnosis. "It's a pity we didn't call some experts [in court]," Lanzkowsky said. "We should have."
Sem has been with his parents since October, when the judge granted them temporary custody, pending her decision. At the time, she said, he had regressed in foster care and his parents seemed to present "the greatest hope for him."
Administration for Children's Services spokeswoman Jennifer Falk said Sem's parents had been cooperating with the agency's service plan and officials were pleased with the child's progress. Meryl Kovit, the mother's attorney, said that the judge's dismissing of the charges was a "big win" for the parents.
"This kid had a fairy godmother maneuvering the system," she said. "Most kids don't. Fighting Family Court is like fighting City Hall."
"That's justice," Sem's father, Eddy Jean-Baptiste, said of the judge's decision. "The hospital was too quick to judgment, and the city was too quick to judgment."
A Haitian immigrant who came to the United States in 1985 and who is a clerk at American Airlines, the 42-year-old father said he and his wife are devout Christians who would never harm their child. "I love my son so much," he said.
He said Sem, who will be 3 on June 21, is starting to talk, sings church songs and enjoys flushing the toilet. "Now I'm looking for an annuity to start for him . . . to go to college," he said.
Copyright 1998, Neweday Inc.
Karen Freifeld, Judge: It's Not Shaken-Baby Case / Charges dismissed, parents get permanent custody of son,
2., 05-28-1998, pp A07.