A voice for others, Cynthiana family raising awareness for Shaken Baby Syndrome

Published: Feb. 16, 2017 at 3:30 PM EST
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It’s hard to imagine anyone shaking a child so violently it causes severe damage or even death, but it’s a reality. Every year there are 1,300 cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome in the United States.

A central Kentucky mother says five seconds changed her son's life at the hands of an abuser. The Harrison County family is hoping to raise awareness about child abuse and at the University of Kentucky a new doctor is doing the same in trying to prevent cases like it.

It's sort of a rite of passage for any little brother to pester their big sister! Warren O'Brien has learned that skill.

"He's loving, cuddly, he's always laughing, has attitude," said Warren's mother Ashley O'Brien.

If you knew what this little guy has been through, you might think attitude was needed to survive.

"I stood there watching him seven-months-old, looked like an 11-month-old because he was so swollen," Ashley said.

Last Feb. 17, Warren was fighting for his life at Kentucky Children's Hospital. Ashley says the baby ended up there after she left Warren with her now ex-fiancé while at work.

"He called saying he was unconscious and wasn't breathing and had been unconscious for 45 minutes."

Doctors determined Warren had a traumatic brain injury, the victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome. His abuser, Brandon True, is now in prison.

A judge sentenced True to 14 years for assault in connection to Warren’s injuries.

At 18-months-old, Warren has come so far. His injuries were significant - bleeding on the brain, vision issues, he doesn't walk, and has delayed mental capacity. He spends a great deal of time in physical therapy.

"He is so strong. He is a fighter. He has overcome every obstacle that they said he would have," said Denise Beckett, Warren's grandmother.

Dr. Christina Howard of Kentucky Children's Hospital works closely with cases like Warren's.

"A lot of times I think with physical abuse, it’s done out of anger and frustration. We see it a lot when children get to the colicky stage and won't stop crying," Dr. Howard said.

Dr. Howard is the first ever pediatric specialist in child abuse at Kentucky Children's Hospital, heading up a pediatric forensic program advising on cases where abuse is suspected. Dr. Howard's team acts as a go-between with police.

"Prior to us coming, there wasn't really a go-to person for them to ask those questions or for them to get that info to and so I think that it helps with that communication," said Dr. Howard.

In her first year, her team consulted on nearly 600 cases. Not all end in abuse, but enough did warrant investigation.

Dr. Howard says prevention is a large role in what her team does. She wants people to know that Shaken Baby Syndrome is an outdated term. She prefers "Abusive Head Trauma."

"One, it's not always babies. The oldest I have seen is four, but there has been some data that it has been seen in a child as old as eight to have had abusive head trauma."

Another role of prevention, legislation in Kentucky that requires physicians and others who work with children to now be trained in abusive head trauma and to spot the warning signs of prior abuse.

"A lot of the children that they were finding that had near fatal or ultimately fatal injuries were seen by a provider within two weeks of that injury and had a sign that should have been recognized."

Ashley O'Brien can't change what happened to her son.

"As a mom, and they found older injuries, so it was like how did I not see this going on," Ashley said.

Her family can now be a voice for others.

To celebrate Warren's one-year survival, his family will hold a celebration, marking a long year, but also use his story as one that might just save another child from abuse.

"When you see what it has done to him, I'm hoping that will make people more aware, because five seconds, five seconds that's what it took to change Warren's life," said Denise Beckett.

Warren's family will hold that celebration on Friday, Feb. 17 - the same day Warren was abused a year ago. The event will be held at Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Cynthiana beginning at 6 p.m. The family will be collecting stuffed animals and blankets for "Warren's Window of Friends," to be donated to other children at Kentucky Children's Hospital.

You can learn more by going to the

Facebook page.

When it comes to spotting abuse, it’s not always easy. But Dr. Howard says to look at the Ten-4 rule. If you see any bruising in:

T- Torso



in a child four years or younger, or any bruising on a child four months or younger, you should have the child examined.