It’s hard to imagine anyone harming a helpless infant, but sadly, it does happen.
Eric and LeAnne Stadler of Ohio have four biological children and have been fostering babies since 2014. They have helped care for many little ones over the years, but when they received a phone call from Child Protective Services in 2017, they were horrified by one boy’s tragic situation.
CPS informed LeAnne that there was a 2-month-old baby who had been in the hospital for 11 days. A nurse had visited his biological family’s home, noticed that Easton was far too thin, and reported his parents to CPS. When authorities arrived, they found Easton unresponsive in his crib. He was also starving and wearing dirty clothes and a soiled diaper, so they rushed him to a local hospital for IV fluids and tests.
Easton was diagnosed with nonorganic failure to thrive, a term that is used when experts don’t know exactly why small children aren’t doing well. When LeAnne and Eric showed up at the hospital to take him home, he was so fragile that even “seasoned foster parents” like the Stadlers were terrified to hold him.
“When we arrived, we were escorted to the room where the caseworker was sitting holding a baby,” LeAnne explained.
I had never seen anything like him. He was blue! Blue, not pink like most babies. His skin showed all the little veins that ran through his body. He had no fat on his little bones. His head was huge and the ‘soft spots’ were ridiculously obvious, not to mention the sutures where his skull came together were completely visible. He was so pitiful.
Doctors told Eric and LeAnne to take Easton home and lavish him with love and nutrition, yet even with the best care in the world, they feared he might not survive.
Fortunately, with round-the-clock feedings and lots of cuddling, Easton slowly began to show signs of improvement. He put some weight on his tiny frame and became physically stronger, but there were still some lingering issues that concerned his caregivers.
“He had no real muscle tone, he was like a rag doll. His arms and legs just hung to his sides, and he couldn’t control his own head… and his head kept growing,” LeAnne said. “When he would actually have the energy to stay awake, his eyes seemed void, almost as if he was blind. He still was not crying or making any noises at all.”
Eventually, they took him back to the hospital for an MRI of his brain and a full-body scan to look for broken bones or other signs of trauma. What they learned changed all of their lives forever.
The MRI showed non-accidental head trauma resulting from shaken baby syndrome. A detective stepped in and spoke with Easton’s biological family, which is when the truth came out.
“With the mounting evidence, his father finally confessed to shaking Easton one day while he was crying, then throwing him onto the couch,” LeAnne said. “The poor child, who’d been crying because he was hungry, then rolled onto the floor, which caused a seizure.”
Eric and LeAnne were appalled by this revelation and became more determined than ever to love Easton as he always deserved to be loved. His biological father was later sentenced to four years in prison for his crime.
Meanwhile, the little one’s foster family threw themselves into helping him overcome the many physical disabilities caused by shaken baby syndrome. He started occupational, physical, and speech therapy at just 4 months old.
“At 2 years old, he was diagnosed with hypotonic cerebral palsy, something he will have for the rest of his life,” LeAnne said. “He also has dysphagia, a disorder that affects his ability to eat and swallow. … He also is dyspraxic, so his speech is not on track. His brain knows what it wants to say, but the muscles can’t always figure out how to say it.”
Despite his many hardships, Easton is now a happy child who is doted on by his four older brothers and sisters. He can even walk with help from special braces!
But the best part of his story is that right before he turned 3, the Stadlers made their family complete by legally adopting him!
“Many people say he is blessed to have us, but we disagree. We are so blessed to have him,” LeAnne said.
It takes a special family to work miracles like the Stadlers have done with Easton! Their enduring love and nurturing home have done so much to erase the horrible start to his life, and we can’t wait to continue to see him thrive!
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