Category Archives: Shaken Baby Syndrome

Rare medical condition, not shaking, caused baby’s death

Murder charges were dropped recently against a father in Randolph County charged with the death of his 11-week-old daughter. The baby’s treating physician indicated the death was caused by shaking or blunt force trauma. The defendant spent 158 days in jail prior to the charges being dismissed. The charges were dismissed when the forensic pathologist, Dr. Anna McDonald, reported to the Assistant District Attorney prosecuting the case that the child suffered from a rare medical condition causing blood clots to travel to her brain and heart. Diagnosing the rare condition that has symptoms similar to Shaken Baby Syndrome required extensive study of the child’s tissues. More information about the case is available here.

The defendant was represented by attorney Taylor Browne of Asheboro. Mr. Browne recognized the need for extensive investigation and expert assistance and consulted with medical and biomechanical experts. Attorneys representing clients in cases with shaken baby or abusive head trauma allegations should be aware that the triad of symptoms associated with these diagnoses (cerebral edema, retinal hemorrhaging, and subdural hematoma) may have other explanations. Some information about these cases and links to additional resources can be found here.  Attorneys in appointed cases should contact IDS Forensic Resource Counsel Sarah Olson for assistance in locating experts and other resources.

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New Research on Shaken Baby Syndrome

New research by Canadian pathologist Evan Matshes challenges the opinion that death from shaking is due to brain trauma characterized by the “traditional triad” of injuries: subdural bleeding, retinal bleeding and brain swelling.

His research, published in the July 2011 edition of the journal of American Forensic Pathology (available here: Shaken infants die of neck trauma, not of brain trauma), shows that death from shaking could occur due to neck injury, evidenced by bleeding in the nerve roots in a particular region of the spinal column.

Matshes’s research gives a new explanation for how death from shaking occurs: the C3, C4, C5 region of the spinal column controls the diaphragm. Damage to the nerve roots in this area could paralyze the diaphragm and stop the baby from breathing.

EMILY BAZELON in New Evidence on Shaken Baby Syndrome, the blog of the New York Times Magazine explains the findings:

In investigating the deaths of 35 babies, Matshes did autopsies in a new way. The usual practice is to dissect only part of the spinal column. Matshes dissected the spine down through the neck and into the nerve roots. What he found was striking. He looked at the spinal columns of 12 babies whose history showed evidence of injury from hyperflexion — in other words, severe whiplash, from shaking or, for example, from a car accident.

In all 12, he found bleeding in the nerve roots of the part of the spinal column called C3, C4 and C5. Matshes also dissected the spinal columns of 23 babies for whom there was not solid evidence of an injury from whiplash. (Most of the babies in this group died of SIDS, or from being smothered by an adult who was sleeping with them.) Only one baby in this group of 23 had bleeding in the same C3, C4, C5 region, and that child’s history, while inconclusive, made shaking a distinct possibility.

For additional information on Shaken Baby Syndrome and child abuse allegations, click here. Continue reading

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