Child's death spurs push for counseling on shaken baby syndrome

Child's death spurs push for counseling on shaken baby syndrome

Credit: Family photo

Jared Patton, who was born in 2007, died after being shaken by his father.

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by Lucy Bustamante, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on March 3, 2014 at 6:35 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 10 at 2:20 PM

HAMPTON -- Jared Patton was born in 2007 – a happy, healthy child.

That changed six weeks later.  His father, David Curtis Patton, shook him, shook him so hard that the little boy lost the ability to breathe, eat and communicate normally.

Jared's grandmother, Kathy Stowe, became his legal guardian.

"I had this overwhelming feeling that I was supposed to keep him. He was awesome. He was absolutely awesome," she recalls.

She remembers Christmastime 2009. Jared was two-and-a-half years old and they gazed at the Christmas tree. It was their last Christmas.

"I knew it was time," she says.

She says she felt his soul start to leave and watched him take two small hiccup-like breaths.

“And he was gone. I think about if only he were here and then I'm glad he's gone because he fought every day he was here. He had enough."

Kathy and her husband Steve realized talking about what happened could help them ease the pain of losing Jared.  They've gone from one end of the state to the other to champion a law that requires hospitals to train new parents on shaken baby syndrome.

"If there is no training, then there's no awareness and raising a baby can be overwhelming even for the greatest person. And anybody could do it if they didn't understand the ramifications," Kathy says.

Jared isn’t in his crib, but it’s not empty. It’s filled with his toys and all of the tokens they've collected while making their talks.  Their work helped them cope with the loss, but it didn’t lessen their deep hatred for Jared's father. They decided that would only come with forgiveness. That effort began when Patton got out of jail after serving five years. Steve learned Patton had recently had a daughter with his new girlfriend. 

"I made a decision to take a picture of Jared and his other son and brought it to him with his blanket and said ‘I forgive you, whatever you did or didn't do. I need to put it past me.’"

Shortly after that visit, the Stowes were shocked to learn Patton was in the Hampton City Jail, accused of harming his little girl.

"Knowing what Jared went through, I can't imagine how someone would do it twice. I can't comprehend it," Kathy says.

The Stowes wish Patton would have receive anger management counseling while he was behind bars, similar to what Virginia law now requires for new parents.

Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan says there’s no money for that, but the controversial Medicaid expansion could cover it.

“We save dollars. We save taxpayer dollars and we prevent children from becoming involved in the system. At the end of the day, we prevent you from a becoming a victim," Morgan states.

The Stowes are hopeful that lawmakers in Richmond will listen, that they’ll think it’s better to spend money on prevention and not prosecution.

In 2012, Hampton Roads had the highest number of child fatalities in the state. The Child Fatality Review Team with the Department of Social Services says the number of cases continues to rise. Champions for Children reports that from July 2012 through June 2013, 51,346 children in Virginia were reported as possible victims of abuse and/or neglect. The group says 106 of those children died; 17 of them were in Hampton Roads, making the region the most active in the state for abuse.

Steve Stowe, meantime, is back talking about what happened to Jared. Recently, he spoke to 5,000 soldiers at Ft. Eustis about PTSD and child abuse prevention.

As for Kathy, who didn't attend Patton's last trial because she was caring for Jared, she says this time will be different. She's be there to make sure justice is served.

She says, "Oh, I will follow the trial. I will be there. Every day."

Patton remains in the Hampton City Jail. His jury trial is April 2.

We checked hospitals in Hampton Roads to see if they're following the law. Portsmouth Naval Hospital requires patients watch a video before they leave. Sentara, Chesapeake Regional, Riverside and Bon Secours hospitals said they do offer the training; however, several 13News Now viewers informed us that some Sentara hospitals, except for Sentara Leigh, did not offer the training before they were discharged with their new baby.

Eastern Virginia Medical School professor and child psychiatrist, Dr. Potter Henderson, offers tips on how to handle the situation if you suspect a child you know is being abused.  Look for any changes, especially when these changes become evident in their daily routine.

"It's when those problems start to get in the way of how we function at home, in our family, in our relationships in school, at our work, that it's worth an inquiry," he says.

He says traumatic events can cause changes that look like ADHD because the part of tje brain that is wired to deal with fight or flight is hot-wired all the time from a traumatic event and is largely offline when someone is in survival mode.

Dr. Henderson adds that when you ask what's going on, make the question open ended, such as "Is there anything bad going on that you want to share?"

He stresses that you need to make sure the child feels very safe when you asking questions. Dr. Henderson says many children are scared about to tell someone about abuse because they fear the abuser will hurt them or they will lose their family as they know it. A response like "Don't worry. I'm going to make sure that this won't happen to you again," can be reassuring.

 

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