Shaken babies on rise in Utah, Most physicians aren't trained to detect the abuse

Relates to:
Date: 2000-12-23

By Angie Welling
Deseret News staff writer

The stories have appeared on newspaper pages and evening newscasts with frightening regularity lately: parents or caretakers accused of shaking infants to death.

Last year in Utah, there were 13 reported cases of shaken baby syndrome.
So far this year: 27, with six being fatalities.

In the past month alone, prosecutors across the state have filed charges in three fatal cases.

David and Yvette Ayotte, Brigham City, were ordered Thursday to stand trial for the death of their 2 1/2-month-old son, Spencer. Prosecutors charge David Ayotte repeatedly shook Spencer in order to stop him from crying throughout his short life. Yvette Ayotte was charged with child abuse, for allegedly knowing of the abuse and doing nothing to stop it.

Edd Keith Morgan, 42, was charged earlier this week with two felony counts for the Dec. 18 death of his adopted daughter. Four-month-old Camryn was airlifted to Primary Children's Medical Center, where employees say Morgan said the baby had been fussy and he had gotten frustrated with her, charges state.

South Weber day-care provider Jeri Daines, 55, was charged Dec. 15 in connection with the April death of 3-month-old Clancy Peterson. According to court documents, physicians at Primary Children's who treated Peterson, noted retinal hemorrhaging in the baby's eyes, which is indicative of severe shaking.

If convicted, each alleged abuser faces life in prison. Yvette Ayotte could serve up to five years.

Amy Wicks of the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, headquartered in Ogden, monitors local cases to determine how the abuse is being treated in the state.
The problem, Wicks said, is that the people who deal most frequently with these cases are not taught to recognize the signs of abuse.

Spencer Ayotte visited his pediatrician five times, once for an inability to gain weight and again for severe diarrhea, but Dr. Carey Lloyd testified at a preliminary hearing that he never suspected abuse.

At an office visit the day before Spencer Ayotte died, Lloyd diagnosed the baby with gastroenteritis and instructed Yvette Ayotte on how to treat the viral ailment.
Prosecuting attorney Jon Bunderson, however, suggests Spencer did not have stomach problems. Rather, the baby was demonstrating symptoms of previous abuse inflicted by his father.

Wicks said Spencer's case is not uncommon, especially because most shaken babies show no outward signs of abuse.

"External injuries are very, very uncommon and that makes it really hard to diagnose," Wicks said. "You can't do a brain scan on every child who goes into the ER."

According to a 1998 study out of the Denver Children's Hospital, the most common misdiagnosis of shaken baby syndrome is gastroenteritis and ear infections.
"If doctors aren't considering abuse . . . they look for other things," Wicks said.

What bothers Wicks the most is that shaking deaths are 100 percent unnecessary.

Parents need to recognize their frustration limit, she said, and learn to walk away when they reach a breaking point.

"Of all the forms of child abuse, shaking is the most preventable."

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