The Tragedy of Shaken Baby Syndrome

Out of Grief, Advocacy

If there is a glimmer of hope in the story of Skipper Lithco, it is that his death will raise awareness of SBS and, if his parents have their wish, ultimately help prevent other children from suffering the same tragic fate.

Shortly after Skipper's funeral, members of a mothers' group that Peggy had belonged to organized a public-education campaign called the Skipper Initiative. They've set up a Website and printed brochures on ways to deal with the frustration brought on by a crying child, alerting people to the dangers of SBS.

Peggy and George, though still overcome with sadness, anger, and disbelief, are trying to channel their grief into advocacy. They were active lobbyists for a law passed in August by the New York state legislature that requires hospitals to tell all new parents -- either in person or via a brochure or a video -- about the dangers of shaking a baby.

One of the messages that Peggy and George hope to convey is that feeling overwhelmed by a crying baby is nothing to be ashamed of. Peggy still aches every time she thinks about what Lynn Matthews could have done when she grew frustrated with Skipper. "She could have put him down and walked out of the room for a breather," Peggy says. "She could have called George or me and said, 'You need to come get Skipper now.' She could have just let him cry. She knew I would have been there within the hour."

As the first anniversary of Skipper's death approaches, Peggy and George still struggle to come to terms with their grief. Peggy sees a counselor once a week to help deal with her anger and depression. But she and her husband cherish the wonderful memories of their time with their son. Pictures of Skipper fill the living room, and Peggy and George have yet to clear everything from his nursery. "Skipper was so full of promise and potential," his mother says as she shows a visitor a videotape of the precious moments of Skipper's life. There he is, sitting in his high chair scooping up Cheerios, playing peekaboo with Daddy, holding onto his mommy's hands as he takes his first tentative steps.

Slowly, Peggy is beginning to look toward the future. She and George would like to have another child, she says. They both loved being parents more than anything else they'd ever done. But they know that even another child will never fill the emptiness they feel. "When we lost Skipper, we lost the center of our universe," Peggy says. "No matter what the future holds, we will never again experience the pure joy we felt when he came into our lives."

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