Christopher’s Story

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 16, 2008

RALEIGH – The voice of a baby.

During Tuesday morning’s announcement that North Carolina was beginning the most comprehensive shaken baby prevention project in the United States, Bertie County resident Jennipher Dickens was called on to be the voice of her child.

When her son, Christopher Daughtrey, was seven weeks old he was shaken by a family member and came perilously close to death. Since his ordeal, Dickens has become the area’s leading proponent of preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). She was asked by officials with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Injury Prevention Research Center and School of Medicine and Duke University Medical Center to share her son’s story at Tuesday’s press conference.

“October 15, 2006 started off as one of the best days of my life,” she said. “My son, Christopher, who was seven weeks old smiled at me for the first time…an all-out toothless grin.”

She continued, “Less than 24 hours later, both of our lives would change forever. That night my son was shaken and his full potential was taken from him. What did Christopher do to cause this senseless abuse? He only cried; something that all babies do.”

Daughtrey was hospitalized in a pediatric intensive care unit for nearly two weeks. He had bleeding on his brain and behind both of his eyes.

“For a while there in the hospital, it was touch and go and later, upon release, his prognosis was poor,” Dickens said. “He is now nearly 17 months old and has come a very long way since then, but he will never be completely normal.

“Two areas of his brain were permanently damaged due to his injury,” she continued. “Since he had seizures at first, he’s also at a higher risk for developing a seizure disorder. He could have learning problems and behavioral disorders as well.”

Dickens said she was thankful for her son’s progress, but knew that his full potential would never be realized.

“Every day of his life he has to go through it without a part of the brain he was born with,” she said. “Every day I wake up and worry if that day will be the day another problem crops up due to his brain damage.”

She added, “Christopher will have to grow up knowing that he lost his potential at someone else’s hands, when there was nothing he could even have done to defend himself.”

After Tuesday’s conference, Dickens said she wanted to be an advocate for her son and to help people see the real life story of someone who had suffered from Shaken Baby Syndrome.

“When I was asked to speak at Tuesday’s press conference as the parent of an SBS victim, I immediately accepted because I felt people would be able to better relate to someone who has actually had a personal experience with the long-term damage shaking a baby causes,” she said. “It was also a great opportunity to reach a large audience and inform them of how very real Shaken Baby Syndrome is.

“Too many people think of SBS as something that happens and then it’s over with, but that’s just not the case,” she continued. “Shaking a baby, even for just a few seconds, is something that causes permanent brain damage and that affects the child for the rest of his or her life.”

Dickens said she believes in the program’s message after careful research on SBS.

“After my son was shaken, I started doing research on the subject and found that many people simply don’t know that shaking a baby is harmful,” she said. “That’s what I want to change. It’s completely normal for babies to cry and it’s okay for parents and caregivers to get frustrated, but it is not okay for them to take out that frustration on an innocent baby. Instead, they should put the baby down in a safe place and walk away.”

Dickens said the project would further efforts already made locally to prevent SBS.

“Thanks to funding from the Bertie County Commissioners, I helped start a postpartum education program at Roanoke-Chowan Hospital to teach new parents the dangers of shaking a baby before they leave the hospital,” Dickens said. “This new statewide education initiative will take that training one step further and allow parents to actually be educated more on not just what SBS is, but the fact that crying is normal and healthy ways they can cope with that crying.”

That program will be enhanced by the new statewide initiative.

“Each family will be given a DVD and booklet to take home with them so they can in turn educate those who care for their children,” Dickens said. “This is something all parents and anyone else who cares for a baby, however briefly, should be required to learn about before they are put in a situation where they might become frustrated with a crying baby. I’ve always thought it was silly that you have to have a license to drive a car, but anyone can care for a baby.”

Roanoke-Chowan Hospital is one of the 90 hospitals that will benefit from the education initiative announced on Tuesday.