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Babies Overdiagnosed With Shaken Baby Syndrome 

Reported by WJLA-TV, Washington, DC

July 30, 2008

More than 1,200 U.S. children are diagnosed with Shaken Baby Syndrome and one in four of those children die from it.

The diagnosis can be paralyzing for families, but in some cases, doctors may be wrong. It happened to a Silver Spring family who says the medical community can do more to prevent other families from suffering what they went through.

Steve Smith says he does all he can to make his six-year-old son, Craig, giggle. But for a time, five years ago, Smith wasn't allowed to spend time with his three children, unless someone else was there. That's because he'd been charged with child abuse and Craig's attempted murder. It started in 2003, when Smith was home alone with his kids.

"I just went for a minute to grab a bottle to rock him to sleep," said Smith, "and when I was downstairs I heard a loud crash."

Craig, 11-months-old at the time, had fallen off the bed, and hit his head. Doctors said he suffered a subdural hematoma as a result of Shaken Baby Syndrome. But with a background in health care, Craig's mother Corrine, knew better. "Something else is going on here. I do not accept that this is Shaken Baby Syndrome."

While fighting their legal battle, the Smith's found Dr. Michael Laposata in Boston. After extensive blood testing, they learned the excessive bleeding that doctors first called Shaken Baby, was instead the result of a bleeding disorder called Von Willebrand's disease. Dr. Laposata believes as many as one percent of reported child abuse cases cases could be due to misdiagnoses like Craig's.

"There have been children with undiagnosed hemophilia, who have had bleeding disorders who were presented as child abuse victims," said Dr. Laposata.

In Craig's case, the bleeding on his brain and behind his eyes, looked just like bleeding caused by Shaken Baby.

"There's a certain amount of heroism to finding somebody who is abusing a child and identifying the abuser, but there's a danger in overdiagnosing," said Dr. Laposata.

Steve Smith was not allowed to stay in his own home for the sixteen months he spent proving his innocence. Charges were eventually dropped.

Dr. Laposata believes in cases of potential Shaken Baby Syndrome, the medical community should perform a whole battery of blood tests rather than performing the simplest or most common tests to be absolutely certain of whether there's been child abuse.

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