CONYERS - An 8-week-old infant remains in critical condition in an Atlanta hospital as a result of injuries sustained when shaken by his father, according to the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office.
Nichole Heimbruch, 26, and Robert Alan Anderson, 22, both of 1109 W. Adrian Circle in Conyers, were arrested Tuesday. Heimbruch was charged with cruelty to children in the first degree, and Anderson was charged with cruelty to children in the first degree, cruelty to children in the second degree, aggravated battery and obstruction of a law enforcement officer.
According to a statement released by the sheriff's office Thursday, investigators received a call March 10 from Scottish Rite Children's Hospital regarding a 6-week-old infant who had been transported to the hospital by ambulance from Rockdale Medical Center earlier that day with what they described as being consistent with severe "shaken baby syndrome."
RCSO investigators questioned Heimbruch, the boy's mother, and Anderson, the infant's legal father, at the hospital.
"Heimbruch advised investigators that she brought the child to the hospital because he had become ill the night before and began to have seizures," said Sgt. Jodi Shupe, spokeswoman for the RCSO.
After stabilizing at RMC, the boy was transported to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, where he remains in critical condition.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke's Web site, www.ninds.nih.gov, shaken baby syndrome is a type of inflicted traumatic brain injury that happens when a baby is violently shaken. Because a baby's neck muscles are weak and the head is large and heavy, the shaking makes the brain bounce back and forth inside the skull and causes bruising, swelling and bleeding.
"If there's enough movement, it can cause the same level of bruising of the brain that would be caused in a car accident or similar accident," said Dr. Forrest Doud, a pediatrician who practices in Rockdale and Newton counties.
He said very young infants are more at risk because they can't protect themselves from the trauma.
"An older child is more able to brace against the movement with neck muscles tightening and holding his head," Doud said.
Symptoms of shaken baby syndrome include extreme irritability, lethargy, poor feeding, breathing problems, convulsions, vomiting and pale or bluish skin. Doud said sometimes bleeding in the eyes and swelling of the baby's fontanelles - or soft spots - can also be evidence of violent shaking.
According to NINDS, the majority of infants who survive severe shaking will have some form of neurological or mental disability, such as cerebral palsy or mental retardation, which may not be fully apparent before 6 years of age.
Babies who are victims of shaken baby syndrome are usually shaken by a frustrated caregiver, such as a parent or babysitter, who are trying to get the baby to stop crying.
Doud said the best thing parents can do when they feel overwhelmed is to simply take a break.
"It's perfectly OK to let the baby cry in the bedroom and walk away for time - although not too long," he said.
Shupe said Anderson was the primary caregiver for the infant in the evenings since his birth while Heimbruch was at work.
Shupe said the exact time the abuse occurred March 10 is still under investigation; however, Heimbruch was charged with the felony offense of cruelty to children because investigators believe she waited more than 12 hours before taking the child to the hospital.
"She was charged for failure to render aid to the baby," Shupe said. "It took her about 14 hours before she took the baby to the hospital from the time she originally saw signs of distress and saw the baby needed emergency help, and after she was advised by the Nurse Advice Line at Scottish Rite that she needed to take the baby to the hospital for medical attention."
The infant is in the custody of the Department of Family and Children Services and the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office. Heimbruch has three other children who are in the custody of other family members, Shupe said.
Shupe said the sheriff's office is continuing to investigate possible past incidents of abuse and further charges may be filed.
Heimbruch remained in the Rockdale County Jail on Thursday under a $5,000 bond. Anderson was granted a $1,000 bond on the obstruction charge, but was denied bond on the other charges, Shupe said.
Aimee Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
Frustrated parents or other caregivers are often guilty of shaking a baby to get him to stop crying. However, this can cause severe physical trauma. The following are suggestions for parents, provided by the National Exchange Club Foundation, which is dedicated to educating the public on the dangers of shaking a baby:
· Never throw or shake a baby.
· Always provide support for the baby's head and back.
· Place the baby in the crib and leave the room for a few minutes.
· Sit down, close your eyes and count to 20.
· Take the baby for a stroller ride.
· Play music or sing to the baby.
· As a friend to "take over" for a while.
· Don't pick up the baby until you feel calm.
· Make sure the baby is fed, burped and dry.
· Gently rock or walk the baby.
· Check for discomfort of diaper rash, teething or fever.
· Call the doctor of you think the baby is sick.
· Make sure clothing is not too tight.
· Give the baby a pacifier.
· Offer a noisy toy or rattle.
· Hug and coddle the baby gently.
Source: Prevent Child Abuse, http://preventchildabuse.com/shaken.htm