Shaken baby syndrome is a devastating public health issue that has faced several eastern Iowa families in the past year.
Thursday marked one month since Monona police found then-18-month-old Myah Larson hurt and unconscious. According to family members, doctors say her injuries are consistent with symptoms of shaken baby syndrome.
Family members believe Troy Laufenberg, the boyfriend of Myah's mother, injured the girl.
Last September, a Dubuque man shook his two-month-old daughter Starlynn Thomas to the point of traumatic brain injury. In the months following, the girl was much like Myah Larson is now -- in a nearly-comatose state.
"It's hard to even look back and think about what happened," Starlynn's mom Nikiesha Thomas said. "I couldn't even imagine what she was going through that day that her dad hurt her."
With the help of therapy, Starlynn is making significant physical and cognitive progress, and Nikiesha Thomas hopes Myah Larson's story will follow a similar path as her daughter's.
"She was bleeding really bad(ly) around her brain, and (doctors) said that they didn't think she was going to make it," Thomas said, recalling the days following her daughter's injuries.
Doctors told Thomas to say her goodbyes to Starlynn, but Thomas' little girl pulled through.
Meeting weekly with a physical therapist and speech pathologist at Unified Therapy Services in Dubuque, Starlynn is making up for lost development.
"When you see a typically-developing child, you sit, and then you wait months, and then you crawl, and then you do that for months," Starlynn's physical therapist Kelly Loeffelholz said Thursday at the clinic. "Well, because Star's old enough to be doing all those things, she could crawl one week, and then the next week she'd come in and she'd be up on her knees, and I'd be like, 'Whoa! That was fast!'"
Starlynn's progress leaves Thomas with hope for others dealing with shaken baby syndrome, including the family of Myah Larson.
"Have faith. Things do come around," Thomas said. "I mean, she might not come all the way around, but just have faith because something could happen."
While doctors tell Thomas that Starlynn will be on anti-seizure medication for life and has suffered permanent brain damage, the smiley little 13-month-old girl survived, and for that her mother is extremely grateful.
Health experts say in approximately one out of every four cases of shaken baby syndrome, the child dies. Babies four months old and younger are at highest risk, since that's the developmental stage during which babies cry a lot. Crying is the leading reason a caretaker shakes a child.
Experts say anybody getting overwhelmed caring for a child should immediately contact a neighbor or a friend for help. Don't let frustration lead to shaken baby syndrome, they say.
For more information on the condition, check out data from the Centers for Disease Control or from the National Institutes of Health in the links to the left.
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