“The doctor handed over a frail, blue, tiny 2-month-old baby boy weighing just over 7 pounds, and he said, ‘Take him home, love him, and feed him because, in a few days, this could be a different story!’ For the first time in my entire life, I was afraid to take home a baby!
It was a fall day in 1996 when Eric and I, excited to start our forever together, said, ‘I do.’ We settled into our newly renovated home and began planning on having children, 2 kids, to be exact. We had always planned on just 2 kids, and that’s exactly what happened… a beautiful baby boy first, then a beautiful baby girl. By the year 2000, we were a complete, perfect little family enjoying life in the suburbs and living the fairy tale life.
But a few years later, Eric was listening to a radio show called ‘Focus on the Family’ and they were discussing raising children with special needs, and Eric felt in his heart we should have another baby. So in 2005, we had another beautiful baby boy, followed by another beautiful baby girl a little over a year later! Now we were a complete family!
Then the day came when we moved out of the suburbs and into the middle of the country. A smaller home with lots of land for the kids to play and explore. Our home was full and our lives were busy, but our hearts were pulling us to fill a need that was great in our community. Foster care! Caring for children who, by no fault of their own, were removed from everyone and everything they had ever known.
But I was hesitant. My parents had been foster parents for many years, and I knew the toll it took on biological kids. I knew how much time and attention the foster kiddos needed, which in turn, took time away from myself and my siblings, and I could only think about what effect it would have on our kiddos, the very children God had blessed us with.
So for 2 years we discussed, prayed about, and researched foster care. We found there were way more kids in the system then there were foster parents to care for them; and because of the drug epidemic, the number of kids going into care was rising. The need was great, and after talking it over with our children we began the classes. In 2014, we were licensed for Foster to Adopt and the same day our license was finalized, we took in our first placement of 2 kiddos.
Ready or not, we were foster parents.
It was February of 2017, we had had many foster placements by then, and we were considered seasoned foster parents. We had a decent relationship with the caseworkers and supervisors at Children Services, and they knew which kiddos our family fit best with. Not every child and foster family fit well, and for a child to thrive in care, they need to be matched with the right foster family. We were finishing up dinner one night after having just recently surrendered an amazing baby girl who we had loved and cared for over the past year for reunification when a call came in. ‘LeAnne, we have a 2-month-old baby boy, failure to thrive. He is at the hospital, and we want to know if you guys could take him?’ ‘YES! Of course,’ was our quick reply. ‘Thanks, the caseworker will call when he is ready to leave the hospital.’
That call unknowingly would change our lives forever!
We couldn’t wait for the caseworker to call, so Eric and I headed to the hospital. When we arrived, we were escorted to the room where the caseworker was sitting holding a baby. 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. He was tiny, frail, motionless, and he honestly resembled an alien. I know it sounds awful, but it was the only way to describe it. The caseworker handed him over, and I was nervous to even hold him, but the moment I did, I knew Eric and I were going to fight with everything we had to keep him safe.
My big strong husband had tears in his eyes as the caseworker began to fill us in on his case. He was starving. The people who brought him into this world chose to not feed him because they had better things to do, like sleep or go to work. You see, he had just spent 10 days at a top-ranking children’s hospital where they had diagnosed him Non-Organic Failure to Thrive. NOFTT meant there was nothing medically wrong with him that would cause him not to gain weight. During that stay, he had packed on a whopping 11 ounces, which proved he was capable of gaining weight, but after he was released from that hospital things for him got worse.
After that extended stay, the hospital set up a visiting nurse to see him every other day and on her first visit, she found him in a bouncy seat asleep. He was filthy, covered in cat and dog hair, and his diaper was soiled. The chart that was supposed to keep record of his feedings was not filled in properly. The nurse asked for a bottle because she was not going to leave until he had been fed. The biological mother went to the fridge, pulled out a cold bottle, and handed it to the nurse for her to feed him. The nurse explained the bottle was too cold for him and asked her to warm it. With an attitude, she replied, ‘If he is hungry he will eat it.’ So, the nurse began to feed him a cold bottle in an effort to give him nourishment, and he ate. She finished her visit, went out to her car, and called the authorities. Little did she know, the baby’s nurse practitioner was calling Children Services the same day.
A female detective was the one to answer that call. A mom herself, she knew what she was seeing was a life or death situation and promptly removed him from that house. Detective M saved his life that day! She collected evidence and began a case for neglect. Even though she knew what she saw was definitely a form of abuse, she had no idea what we were all about to uncover.
The night we brought that sweet baby home, we were scared. We had just been told he could die, within a few days without proper care he would be dead! His weight had him at .001 percentile on the growth chart. That night we began round the clock love and care. His little tummy was only able to handle a half an ounce of formula per feed. So, we had to set alarms to feed him every 2 hours around the clock. The tricky part: he was only allowed to feed for half an hour because he worked so hard and used so much energy that if he fed for longer, he would actually begin burning more calories than he could take in. So, even though our 1st instincts were to just let him eat till he was full, we couldn’t and he wouldn’t.
Night one, he could hardly finish his half-ounce feeds. He was exhausted. He slept, and we had to wake him for every feed. He never once cried. He never once woke to eat on his own. He couldn’t. That is failure to thrive. When a child’s cries for care are not answered, they stop crying. When their hungry bellies are not fed, they lose their sense of hunger. When they do not have the proper nutrition they lose muscle mass and body fat. Without body fat, their little bodies are unable to regulate their own body temperature. They give up the will to fight, they give up the will to live. That sweet baby boy had given up, but we were not giving up on him. Slowly his half-ounce became 3/4 ounce, then an ounce, and so on.
He had a visiting nurse come once a week, and we took him to his pediatrician once a week where he was weighed and checked over. We had a baby scale we had to use daily to weigh him as well. He was eating and putting on weight, but there was still something off. 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. 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. The second week the nurse visited, we explained our concerns and told her we would be discussing them with his pediatricians. She listened carefully, and when we were finished, she asked if we had ever heard of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Shaken Baby Syndrome, you know… NEVER EVER SHAKE A BABY! We quickly did some online research then called his nurse practitioner. She was on vacation, so we explained everything to the nurse and waited for someone to call us back with what to do next. That evening, the phone rang again. It was Emily, his NP. She said she had been sitting on the beach and praying and thinking about this sweet baby boy, and she came up with the same thought. Shaken Baby Syndrome. She ordered an MRI and an Ultra Sound. The same hospital he had stayed at before would call and set everything up.
A month after we first held that frail baby, he was put under, and an extensive MRI was done of his big head. Because he was high risk, he had to stay the night. We settled in for the night, prayed for answers, and awaited the results. The next morning, a team of white coats filled the room. I had not seen so many doctors in one room. They began to explain to us that the MRI showed blood in both ventricles of his brain (the middle portion of the brain) and blood behind his eyes. The bleeds were consistent with non-accidental head trauma. There was newer blood and older blood.
Next, they needed to do a full skeletal scan to check his tiny body for breaks or fractures. We again waited for those results and were relieved to find out that there were no injuries to his skeletal structure. That day we spoke to several specialists as they began to tell us more about what was to come. More MRIs, EEGs, EKGs, CTs, appointments, therapists, and more. There was not a lot of time to digest all the information because we had to focus on getting more answers, what had actually happened to this sweet baby boy, and who had done it. And we had to do it quickly because the goal for his case was still reunification. That sweet baby had to do visitations twice a week with people who very likely were his abusers.
There are a lot of details we could fill you in on, but ultimately, all of the details led Detective M to get a confession. You see baby boy was crying because he was hungry. He needed to be fed, and his biological father decided his crying was bothering him, and since he wouldn’t stop, he picked up that sweet baby boy around his rib cage, shook him several times then threw him on the couch. He then bounced off the couch and hit the floor. When the Detective asked what happened next, that man replied, ‘Well, he stopped crying.’
Then he explained how his eyes rolled to the back of his head and he had a seizure. But he didn’t call 911 because he didn’t want to get in trouble. And his wife’s response when told all the details: ‘Well, he gets frustrated sometimes.’ Oh, and by the way, she knew something was wrong with that sweet baby boy but decided to finally give him a bottle and let him be. And that woman, the one who gave birth to him, stood by that abuser even through the criminal trial where a year and a half after we first held that sweet baby boy, his abuser was sentenced to four years in prison. That baby boy was sentenced to a life of disabilities.
Now for the happy part of the story. That sweet baby boy, well he was very much loved and cared for. That sweet baby boy fought hard. When we brought him home, not only did we feed him, but we held him. Around the clock, he was held. During the day, he was wrapped to me to hear my heartbeat and feel my skin on his cheeks. At 4 months old, he began therapies. Occupational, physical, and speech for feed. He couldn’t hold up his head for many months; he wasn’t even able to sit up on his own at a year, let alone walk.
We were blessed to find specialists who fought hard with us. They told us they would not tell us what he can or can’t do, but instead would let him tell us. They said the brain is an amazing creation, and neuro-plasticity is an incredible science that allows the brain to heal. And even though he suffered what is known as a TBI (traumatic brain injury) that left him with brain damage, the brain has the ability to, in essence, reformat.
At 2 years old, he was diagnosed with Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy, something he will have for the rest of his life. He also has dysphagia, a disorder that affects his ability to eat and swallow, so to this day, he is formula fed to meet his nutritional needs. 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. He finally began walking with the help of special bracing at 2 and a half. Every day he works hard, he fights, he uses ridiculous amounts of energy to get through his day. He has days where his body is just worn out, so he hangs out on the couch most of the day. He isn’t able to keep up with kids his own age, but he is happy! He doesn’t see his differences and he does not let them stop him.
He has had a lot of hospital stays in his short life. Because of his different abilities, he is at risk for illness, and it’s hard to fight those illnesses off, so when he gets sick, he gets really sick and tends to wind up in the hospital. He always seems to take them in stride, and the staff at the hospital always fall in love with him because he smiles through it all. He has won the hearts of all his therapists and doctors. Recently, many have shared with us they never imagined he would be at the point he is at today. Even though they didn’t put a cap on what he would do, they have all said they did not expect him to do much. He has far surpassed their expectations. LOVE and nutrition can change a life.
Now, for the best part of the story. After lots of testimony, lots of tears, lots of prayers, and lots of hard work by passionate, caring caseworkers, the courts ruled and gave the county permanent custody of that sweet baby boy, and just before Thanksgiving and his 3rd birthday last year, that sweet baby boy forever became our child. He became Easton Matthew Stadler, our 5th child. A child who God knew we needed! Many people say he is blessed to have us, but we disagree. We are so blessed to have him. We never imagined, 15 years ago, after listening to a radio show about raising children with special needs, we would be sharing our hearts and home with an amazing little boy who we get to call our son!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Eric and LeAnne Stadler of Ohio. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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‘My dad got very angry at me for crying. I was a tiny, 5-week-old baby. He shook me, threw me against a wall.’: Survivor of shaken baby syndrome’s powerful account so ‘other babies won’t have to go through this too’
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