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Cause Of Baby Death: Shaking

Sometimes, stressed-out parents or caregivers may shake a baby in anger or frustration to make him or her stop crying. The damage this may cause to the child's brain -- even in seconds -- can threaten his or her life, reports correspondent Melinda Murphy of The Early Show.

She spoke with Jon and Angela Field, whose first child was a healthy baby boy. Michael Lawrence Field weighed 8 pounds 10 ounces at birth.

A home video showed him in the arms of his mom. "I can't even tell you how much I love you," Angela says.

But six months later, joy turned to sorrow. Michael became a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome. He was shaken so violently that his brain was severely injured in a matter of seconds.

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"He didn't look like my baby," Angela says. "He didn't. He was swollen and black and blue. And had a huge scar running from one point in his skull all the way to the back of his skull."

Their licensed daycare provider was eventually convicted of causing Michael's devastating brain injuries.

Now a four-year-old with a sweet disposition, Michael has to struggle to do the simplest tasks, because of his fluid-filled and stunted right brain.

As he puts an arm brace on his son, Jon notes, "There's a lot of kids (who are victims of Shaken Baby Syndrome) who just make it to 11, 12-years-old -- and they don't live any longer than that, so we don't know what the future is gonna hold for him."

Even though someone from outside the family caused Mike's injuries, the majority of cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome are caused by parents -- most often, a child's father.

Jason Whittier is serving 12 years-to-life in Utah's State Penitentiary for killing his son, Elijah.

Whittier says, "The time in here won't even compare with what I'll be able to pay for the rest of my life. I gotta live with the fact that these hands took the life of my only son."

Shaken Baby Syndrome is the leading cause of death and disability of abused children under the age of 1. More than 1,200 cases are reported ever year in the U.S.

And, according to Dr. Margaret McHugh, the numbers may be much higher. Doctors miss some cases, because the damage is so subtle, it doesn't show up until later in life, as a learning disability or behavior disorder.

McHugh points out, "When a parent says, 'This baby just doesn't stop crying; this baby isn't acting right, something is wrong,' it really should be a red flag to people to say something else may have happened here."

A baby's head is proportionately larger than an adult's, and the neck muscles are weaker -- making the whipping action from shaking potentially lethal to the brain.

"When you take a baby and you shake them," McHugh explains, "the brain moves back and forth within the skull, and the small veins that supply blood to the brain are broken, and they bleed under the scalp."

Matt and Char Johnson are also living with the brutal consequences of Shaken Baby Syndrome.

"I've never known a child or a baby that had been shaken before this," Char Johnson notes.

A jury acquitted a daycare worker in the death of their son, Vance, a twin.

Char Johnson says, "Every time Vaughan reaches a milestone in his life, it just -- you miss Vance even more, because you just wonder what they'd be doing together."

Matt Johnson deals with his pain by telling others about Shaken Baby Syndrome.

"It's 100 percent preventable," he says. "If you're having a bad day or whatever it might be, there are coping skills that you can utilize. Take time for yourself; put the baby in a safe place; leave the room; call somebody. But don't ever shake a baby, because the effects are devastating."

Johnson is also lobbying leaders in Minnesota's legislature to pass a bill to educate parents and daycare providers about Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Says Sen. Dean Johnson (D-Fla.-Willmar): "When I look at the face of his mom and dad and the expressions, and what they've gone through, we're going to pass this law. It's going to happen."

Matt Johnson adds, "Every child who's been abused in this manner, every child who's been a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome, this legislation, I feel, is their voice."

New York is the only state in the country with a law to help educate parents about Shaken Baby Syndrome. Other states, such as Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Ohio are working on similar legislation.

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