Vigil provides amazing journey

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Two weeks ago, my son and I had the awesome opportunity to travel to Florida.

That in itself was amazing, but it was the purpose of the trip that made the journey really special.

While there, we stayed with a mother of a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome, Rachel Sumner.

Three years ago, Rachel’s daughter Madilynne Wentz was shaken and killed by a licensed daycare provider.

I’ve been in contact with Rachel for a while online and on the phone, but I’d never met her in person until we went to Florida.

Rachel coordinated the Second Annual SBS Candlelight Vigil, which this year was held on Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota, Florida on April 23 during National Shaken Baby Syndrome Awareness Week.

About a dozen families affected by SBS from all across the country gathered together to remember the victims and honor the survivors.

In addition to the SBS families, a few child abuse prevention advocates came and spoke on the tragedy of SBS and child abuse in general.

But the most touching part of the vigil came when Rachel and three others performed a skit in which they spoke as the voice of babies who had been injured or killed from being shaken.

There was hardly a dry eye in the pavilion during and after that skit.

All in all, it was truly a moving, simply amazing experience.

Words just cannot adequately describe how it felt to finally meet others who have gone down a similar road to what my family has.

I have mixed feelings because while it felt good to talk to people who really understand, it’s also a shame that so many have had to go through the same thing or worse.

It was so wonderful to meet Rachel and have the chance to stay at her house and really get to know her, along with Melissa Brown, another mother of an SBS victim who died after being shaken.

In those two I know I have found lifelong friends, ones who know exactly where I’m coming from in my inability to trust people anymore (and don’t think I’m a crazy person because of it).

Meeting Kristy and Josh Schwade and their baby son, SBS survivor Kaleb, was also a great experience, although it made me sad to see up close and personal the extent of the damage that being shaken left Kaleb with.

The best part of the entire trip, however, was meeting with most of the families at Rachel’s house after the vigil and deciding how best to go about preventing SBS all across the country.

To date, most of those involved in the SBS prevention world have been making their own paths and working individually, for the most part.

That Wednesday night, we decided to all work together for a common goal.

&uot;Two heads are better than one,&uot; as the saying goes.

And certainly, multiple heads are far better than two.

We can certainly get more accomplished and more quickly by collaborating than we could if we continued to forge our own way, especially since there are families all across the country who can each work in their own areas.

Since that day, just two weeks ago, the brand-new Shaken Baby Syndrome Resource Center has already come a long way and I’m sure will continue to do so in the coming months and years.

One day, I hope that prevention efforts are such that we don’t have to welcome any more members into the &uot;SBS family&uot;… because this is one family no one likes to see grow.

Jennipher Dickens is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

She can be reached via email at: or by calling (252) 332-7208.