Today’s post is not easy to share, but it is one that is so very important. It’s regarding a heavy topic– one that makes your heart wrench with pain and your blood boil with anger and yet, it’s one of pure love.
The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome contacted me and asked if I would be willing to share more about their cause with my readers. Although I generally like to keep the mood on withHEART light and focussed in a different direction, this is a cause I am honored to help with. During my career as a journalist, I have had the horrible job of reporting on children who have died or been severely injured from Shaken Baby Syndrome, and if I can prevent it from happening to another child in even the smallest way, I’m on board.
This post is about a child– a beautiful, loving boy who was once healthy and perfect and full of life. Today he is left with a terrible brain injury after suffering from Shaken Baby Syndrome. And yet amid his terrible tale of child abuse is one of absolute love on the part of his adopted father. This is the story of Austin Replogle.
At age 2 1/2, little Austin was shaken by his biological mother’s boyfriend on December 7, 2000. He was injured so severely, he spent three weeks in a coma, then three full months in rehab. But he would never be the same little boy again. Austin is now brain damaged. He has function on only half his brain– the entire right side of his brain is dead, affecting the entire left side of his body.
Despite his great physical and mental challenges, he found a loving home. I had the opportunity to interview his adopted father, Brian Replogle. Brian is sharing their story in hopes that just one more child can be saved from this terrible and absolutely preventable form of child abuse.
First, a little background. Austin is the son of a relative, and when he was injured, Brian and his then wife first fostered, then adopted him. Austin is now 15-years-old and while he has made great strides, he now functions at about a kindergarten level, though he cannot read or write. He has undergone numerous surgeries, attempting to give him more function with his body and less pain, but he remains crippled and fragile.
Austin has a great love of trains. He and his father love to sit with a view of train tracks at the rail yard, watching the trains and talking about each one. It’s one of their favorite pastimes. Austin also loves hockey. And Austin loves life.
Brian is a firefighter in South Bend, Indiana, where they live. Now, his interview:
Q) Did you know what you were getting into when you took on raising this child?
A) I wouldn’t say I knew all of what I was taking on raising Austin, but I had a good idea. Before the actual decision to adopt Austin was made, we were his foster parents for nearly 4 years, so I had the experience of time to help prepare me. Also, I was his stay-at-home dad/uncle for 3 years right out of the hospital; a decision made based on our families financial needs and living arrangements at the time. And prior to that I was somewhat the family confidant (for a lack of a better word choice) while Austin was hospitalized. His biological mom asked me to attend the case review sessions between doctors, nurses, therapists and his biological mom because she wasn’t’ comfortable with the medical jargon and depth of discussion she was asked to participate in; so I was given full access to the medical staffs and able to get a good understanding of the prognosis for Austin’s future. All of that combined gave me good confidence that I could handle most of what was ahead for us all.
Now, there were/are still things I wasn’t prepared for in Austin and our families’ futures; for instance, the stress on our family both immediate and extended, the lack of understanding or acceptance from within some circles of our lives. The behind our back snickering and outright bullying we would be/are subjected to in various public settings like malls and restaurants. The discrimination, blatant or unintended we have endured has truly made us stronger though; I use these moments as opportunities to educate Austin and the community in doing the right things. Society has expectations for how each person is to act, work, and conduct themselves, and Austin needs to learn those expectations also apply to him; vice versa, society needs to accept and understand that Austin, and people similar to him, do not act or conduct themselves in a manner defiant of societies expectations, but because of their disability, for which they had no decision over receiving.
Ultimately my ability to handle and manage Austin’s life comes down to how I was raised, the situations I was presented prior to Austin, the lesson’s my life taught me through either situations or people whom have crossed my path at various times. I truly believe that God prepared me for this role, to be Austin’s dad, advocate and friend through the path my own life has followed.
Q) What do you want people to know about Shaken Baby Syndrome?/ What do you hope readers take away from your message?
A) I want people to know that Shaken Baby Syndrome is 100% preventable. It’s about education, plain and simple. Statistically speaking men overwhelmingly “shake” more often than women; and when you think about why that is it stands out that men don’t have the “social training” women do of playing with dolls, dreaming of having babies, and so on. Society, throughout history, has bred men to be the hunter-gatherers, to be aggressive by nature. Men like violent things like guns, football, hockey, and other rough events. Men play with GI Joe, WWE and other “action” figures, not baby dolls that cry, need to be fed and have diapers to change. So when men (in general of course) are left to care for and nurture a baby or small child, having little to no experience, and said baby begins to cry, and cry and cry, on top of life’s other stresses, shaking becomes a virtually uncontrolled act of aggression to the situation at hand. Now this isn’t meant to trivialize the process of shaking a baby, or to single-out Men, of course women shake babies and toddlers too and for very similar reasons, lack of experience and uncontrolled stresses in life.
So, let’s spread the word: babies CRY, kids don’t always eat what we want them to, and they don’t all learn to be potty trained on the same timeline either; but picking up a baby/toddler when we are under other stresses is not a good idea. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and stressed, you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, call a family member, friend, neighbor, or coworker.
And remember, car seats, strollers, play pens, cribs and even bouncy swings are all designed to hold a baby safely! Don’t be afraid to put your child in a safe place like these and walk away for a few minutes to gather your senses, listen to some music, write in a journal, count to 100, walk laps around your house, there are so many other things you can do in that moment when shaking seems so easy. EVERY PARENT has needed help, I can clearly remember a time when I could have easily picked up Austin and shaken him not long after he was home from the hospital, his head injury fresh and healing, he would cry for hours it seemed sometimes, and really cut at my nerves. The difference between those of us who don’t shake and those who do is not intent, but experience, education and training.
Q) What does the future hold for you and your child?
A) In reality, the future is an unknown for Austin, but I would like to think it is full of great adventures and lots of movies, trains, and hockey games. Austin likely won’t hold a job in his lifetime, but I continue to teach him the value of giving and helping others with the hope he will be able to enjoy volunteering at a small organization. He will need and require 24/7 supervision both for his personal needs and safety. He takes a number of medications to curb the potentially hundreds of seizures he would have without the medication. He faces possibly having a Vagal Nerve Stimulator placed to electronically stop seizures should the medications ever stop working for him in the future. He will likely have a handful of other orthopedic type surgeries to help him with his left hand/arm and legs. And while his mom and I are divorced, we continue to share time with him, and he has siblings through her subsequent marriage who may become actively involved in his life someday.
Austin and I are truly blessed with the amount of support we have from our family, friends and community; managing his daily life along with my own needs to work, volunteer and socialize wouldn’t be possible without help from so many others. I am planning many great adventures with Austin in the future, possibly a airplane trip to Denver next September for the International Conference on Shaken Baby Syndrome and Abusive Head Trauma; and a possible AMTRAK train ride home. I really think he would have a great time traveling like both by air and rail, and I look forward to documenting it with pictures and in my blog. I am also in the process (it’s been a learning process for sure) of writing a book or three on Austin’s life, our lives, and the impact he has had on my life and the lives of others he has touched. I had really hoped it would be an easy process, but it’s really not when you have to live our daily lives also.
Thank you for sharing your story, Brian! Now, how can you help spread the word about Shaken Baby Syndrome? Here are a few ways:
1) KNIT or CROCHET infant caps using any newborn baby cap pattern. Caps should be made using any shade of soft, baby-friendly purple yarn, be at least 50% purple in color, and free of straps, strings or other potential choking and strangling hazards. For baby boys, please remember to include blues, browns, grays and other “boy friendly” colors in your cap designs.
2) Organize and host a “KNIT IN” or “CROCHET PARTY” …which really is just our fancy way of saying get a group together and make some hats. These make for fantastic service projects in an array of settings: school, club, community, church, family, Scouts, etc.
3) POST FLYERS around your school, neighborhood, work, community, church, gym, etc. To receive flyers please contact the NCSBS.
4) SHARE this information! Know someone who knits or crochets? Know someone in a position to organize a service project? Give them a CALL or send them an EMAIL.
5) Help us spread the word through SOCIAL MEDIA. The campaign not only involves making hats, but also educating others through word of mouth and active discussions on social media: PIN, SHARE, TWEET, and YOUTUBE.
6) Post this information, photos of hat making, and/or put our contact/button (see here) on your BLOG or WEBSITE.
If you make a hat or collect hats for donation, you can drop them off at your local NCBS chapter (mine here in Utah is at: 1433 N 1075 W Suite 110, Farmington, UT, 84025 or click here for donation sites closest to you)
The goal of this campaign is to raise awareness about the Period of Purple Crying (when infants are most likely to be abused). The truth is raising children tries your patience. A screaming child is tough for anyone to deal with. Let’s work toward educating parents on how to handle the stresses of parenthood and save a child’s life or future.
Have a happy and safe weekend,
*Brian Replogle is on the board of directors for Child and Parent Services (CAPS) of Elkhart County. He has been a disability family advocate for the past 8 of the last 9 years for the Arc of Indiana and Family Voices of Indiana. He does regular and frequent speaking engagements for both child abuse prevention and disability advocacy. Brian was honored as the “2011 Child Advocate of the Year” award from Child and Parent Services of Elkhart County, and the “2013 Child Award” from the Children’s Bureau of Indianapolis. You can read more of his and Austin’s story on his blog, All Aboard: Me and Austin’s life on the train