Couple works to offer support to parents of shaken babies

Monday, July 14, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Connor Eaton was 5 months old when the baby sitter called his mother, Patty, and told her to come pick up her son.

"She said Connor bumped his head on a changing table," Patty Eaton said. "And she told me he stopped breathing for a little bit but had started again."

Eaton rushed Connor to the doctor, and then he went by ambulance to Children's Mercy Hospital, where doctors took X-rays and brain scans while Patty and her husband, Chris, of Overland Park waited for news.

"Shaken baby syndrome at that point didn't even enter my mind, and I certainly didn't want to think that this woman I had trusted with my baby had hurt him in any way," Patty Eaton said.

"Even when the hospital told me Connor had head trauma, I said that sometimes he bonks into his 2-year-old brother. But they said nothing like that would have caused the kind of trauma they were seeing."

About 25 percent of all shaken baby syndrome victims die as a result of their injuries, and many more are left with severe brain damage, paralysis and motor and cognitive disorders, according to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Connor is one of the lucky ones, Patty Eaton said. Although he suffered brain damage and 20 retinal hemorrhages, Connor is now 7 years old and healthy, she said.

Connor's baby sitter was interviewed by a detective and later pleaded no contest. She was convicted of child abuse. She was sentenced to 36 months probation.

"We were so, so fortunate," she said. "But so many children and their families are not. Ever since Connor was injured, we talked about wanting to help. Now we're finally at the point where we can begin."

In May the Eatons, with the help of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, formed a not-for-profit called the Connor Cares Foundation. It is dedicated to the prevention of shaken baby syndrome, educating the public and, most of all, providing assistance and support to local children who've been injured.

While Connor was recovering, the Eatons tried to find as much information as they could on shaken baby syndrome.

But they couldn't find much, and they couldn't connect with any other parents in the same situation. They also wondered what kind of therapy or special care Connor might need.

So one of the first things the Eatons did when they began the Connor Cares Foundation was create a Web site where families could share their stories with others who had been through the same trauma.

The site is connorcares.com.

The Eatons want to provide information and resources to families, and to let them know where to turn for emotional and financial assistance.

"We've got a lot of different ideas, but we definitely want to start by helping people," Patty Eaton said.

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