August 15th, 2008
02:25 PM ET

Shaken baby tragedy

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

A few years ago, a woman called me in the middle of the night to tell me her son-in-law had been taken to jail. This was a woman I knew pretty well, and I was stunned to hear the story she proceeded to tell me. Her grandchild (his daughter) had been found unconscious at the house and taken to the hospital. Doctors there quickly figured out the child had been shaken. Just a few months old, her little neck muscles had not been strong enough to stabilize her head, which in young children is relatively bigger with respect to their bodies. She developed a blood collection on her brain and shearing of small blood vessels deep inside. Ultimately, she never recovered; she died in her mother’s arms. The little girl’s dad had been the only one in the home and subsequently admitted to handling the child in a rough manner when she was persistently crying.

In a moment of anger, he had killed his child and essentially sentenced himself to imprisonment. As a dad, I can’t imagine the incredible grief he is still suffering today, so many years later. As a neurosurgeon, I have seen this story play out more times than I care to remember.

It is of little value to say that he didn’t mean it. He is a good man who made a terrible mistake. It did make me wonder, though, just how much are young parents equipped to be able to deal with babies and very young children. Most parents are shocked when I tell them the consequences of shaking a baby or handling the child in a rough manner. Add in a little immaturity, lack of necessary patience, and you literally have a prescription for disaster.

As you can read today (link to story), there are some relatively simple ways to prevent a fatal mistake. But, should we be doing more?

There are no instruction manuals when it comes to children, as there are with most other things in life.

Should there be a sort of “manual” and what sort of things should be in it? What would you put in a manual that goes home with new parents?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.