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Baby's injuries akin to being run over by vehicle but she was shaken: doctor

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KAMLOOPS, B.C. - Injuries to a seven-month-old baby's brain were so severe that they're typically seen in children who have been run over by a vehicle or fallen from a second-storey window, a doctor has testified.

Pediatric specialist Dr. Margaret Colbourne said injuries in Hunter Beakley's eyes showed she'd been violently shaken.

“There’s nothing else that would have caused this except shaking," Colbourne said. My diagnosis was abusive head trauma,” Colbourne told B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday.

Colbourne, who is also the medical director of the child-protection service unit at BC Children's Hospital, was testifying in the trial of Hunter's father, Michael Beakley.

He is charged with aggravated assault and criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

B.C. Supreme Court heard Hunter was a full-term baby who was meeting all her growth and development milestones.

It was an ophthalmologist’s report that solidified what every other doctor suspected when they examined Hunter, who began having seizures.

Injuries in her eyes were “secondary to shaken-baby syndrome,” the pediatric ophthalmologist wrote after examining the baby while she was undergoing brain surgery at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver on Feb. 15, 2012.

Beakley’s former spouse, Cassandra Gunn, has described her daughter as an extremely fussy baby who often could not be consoled.

Gunn testified she went to work on the afternoon of Valentine’s Day 2012, leaving Hunter with Beakley and the couple’s other daughter.

When she arrived home after work that evening, Beakley asked her to look at Hunter. Gunn described her daughter’s skin as pale, her eyes pulled to the right side and she was making involuntary motions with her arms.

Paramedics noted Hunter was not moving normally on her left side.

She was first taken to Royal Inland Hospital, then transported by air early the next morning to BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Colbourne outlined reports from emergency doctors and a pediatrician in Kamloops, as well as records from anesthesiologists, neurosurgeons and ophthalmologists from Vancouver.

All noted there were no outward signs of trauma to the baby, in particular no cracks, swelling or other evidence of blows to her skull.

But bleeding in her head and subsequent swelling caused Hunter's brain to shift from the centre.

When surgery to reduce swelling and determine a cause of seizures was completed, the brain swelling continued so doctors could not immediately replace a portion of her skull that was removed.

Surgeons also observed an earlier trauma to the brain they determined occurred anywhere from a few days to a few weeks before Feb. 14, 2014.

In cross-examination, defence lawyer Bob McRoberts asked Colbourne if the Valentine’s Day injury could have occurred earlier in the day or on Feb. 13, the day on which Gunn described Hunter as “inconsolable” and “not right.”

“The degree of bleeding and swelling in her head, she would have appeared more abnormal than that,” Colbourne said.

But she couldn’t rule out the injury happened earlier.

“It’s conceivable this injury could have happened sometime in the day, during February 14th."

Colbourne said milder brain injury is misdiagnosed by general physicians about 30 per cent of the time as flu-like symptoms, such as what Hunter had in previous weeks.

McRoberts also noted the lack of rib injury often seen in infants who are grabbed and shaken violently.

Colbourne testified the “huge, huge” hemorrhaging of blood seen in Hunter’s eyeball rarely occurs except during violent acceleration and deceleration of the head.

Doctors did extensive blood work and other testing to rule out causes.

By Feb. 29, 2012, two weeks after Hunter was admitted to hospital, “we didn’t need to do anymore investigation,” Colbourne said.

(Kamloops This Week)

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