We thank Claudine Zap for her article, “Child’s Rare Bone Disease Leads to Mistaken Charges Against Dad.”

Rana is a nurse at a hospital in Texas. She and her husband lost custody of her three children when x-rays revealed unexplained fractures on her newborn twin girls. Doctors at the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, said these were non-accidental injuries. The parents had no idea as to the cause of any of the fractures. Upon the reports of the doctors, Social Services took the couples three children into custody. The 3 girls were placed with their grandparents and the parents were only allowed supervised visitation. Due to the mother’s medical connections and knowledge, she was referred to Gerber Wilson, M.D., a Dallas geneticist. He diagnosed the twin girls with a connective tissue disorder called Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome or EDS. Dr. Wilson related, “One of the main symptoms is the underlying structure of the body, including the bones and joints, is fragile. So you get more fractures. Therefore, just handling a baby routinely like any parent would do, can lead to a fracture.” He further stated, “EDS was once thought to be rare. Many doctors have never heard of it…What we’ve learned recently, in part because of advances in testing the genes for these conditions, is that it’s extremely common and that there are milder forms that may present with one or two or three fractures. ” Rana and her husband were extremely lucky to have found Dr Wilson. Most parents are not so lucky.

Why didn’t the child abuse pediatricians and pediatric radiologists at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas discover this condition? These are doctors who present themselves to the courts as experts in child abuse and the causes of fractured ribs. Was a geneticist from Children’s Medical Center consulted about genetic conditions in the twin girls which could cause easy fracturing?

Bria and Andrew are the parents of a 3-month-old daughter. Their baby was born prematurely. When Andrew was changing his daughter’s diaper, he heard her hip “pop”. It was a simple diaper change and nothing unusual took place during the change. They took the baby to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas to make sure she was okay. Tests revealed multiple bone fractures. The child abuse doctors determined non-accidental injuries and “suspected physical abuse of a child.” Social Services took the baby into their custody. Bria was allowed to move into her mother’s home with the baby. She was supervised at all times when with the baby. Andrew was allowed only supervised visits by a court-approved visitation supervisor. He was criminally charged with child abuse.

Bria was a stay-at-home mother. When she was not with her baby, they had a nanny. She had never observed her husband to do anything but be appropriate with their baby. The nanny said she had never witnessed any inappropriate handling by either parent. The baby’s pediatrician reported he never saw any evidence of abuse on the well baby visits. Because the baby was born prematurely, she required more doctor visits. Despite all the evidence that there must be another explanation for the baby’s fractures, the child abuse pediatricians and the pediatric radiologists from Children’s Medical Center still suspected child abuse. Once again why wasn’t a geneticist at the hospital consulted and requested to do testing on the baby and to consult with the parents? Why didn’t these child abuse doctors consider other explanations for fractures on the baby?

Fortunately for Bria and Andrew, Rana, the mother of the twin girls also accused of child abuse, heard of Bria’s case and referred Bria to Dr. Wilson. Dr. Wilson examined the baby and the parents and diagnosed Bria and her baby with EDS. All charges were dismissed against the father and he was allowed to move back home and resume their lives. This ordeal took nine months to resolve.

We would like to say what these families went through is a rare occurrence. Sadly, it is not. We are more frequently confronted with families like those above whose newborn babies, usually those born prematurely and have been in NICU units, are brought to the hospital several months after birth for a medical concern, are body scanned and x-rayed, and the fractures discovered. The pediatric radiologists see the fractures and decide child abuse, non-accidental trauma. They don’t see evidence of bone abnormality and, in their opinions, the type of fractures they see could not have occurred with normal handling. The child abuse doctors rely on the pediatric radiologists findings and mantra their opinions that these types of fractures could not occur but for child abuse. The doctors and the pediatric radiologists hold themselves out as experts on child abuse.

These two families proved the child abuse doctors wrong. How many other families have lost custody of their children, had them adopted, were prosecuted and put in jail for child abuse which was not really child abuse. In a follow-up blog, I will discuss the dilemma social workers, judges, and attorneys have in handling these types of cases. Because more premature babies are being born each year, we will see more and more of these cases.

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