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Shaken Baby Syndrome aka The Modern Day Witch Hunt - BESS

Updated on August 3, 2012

Shaken Baby Cases on the Rise

It appears as though the number of people accused and charged with the horrific act of shaking a baby is on the rise. Now I am not saying that everyone accused of such crimes are innocent, but I am saying that shaken baby syndrome accusations are being handed out without proper examination being completed. It is a "modern day witch hunt" because if it appears to be SBS than it has to be SBS, just like years ago if you were suspected of being a witch, well then you were labeled a witch. If you were declared a witch you were burned, if you are accused of SBS you will sit in jail. All of this occurs due to the ignorance of medical staff and the "so called" medical experts.

In today's society everything as we know it to be today can be completely different tomorrow. This is especially true when it comes to technology and medical advancements. So why are so many experts in SBS so closed minded? Is it their own personal fears of being wrong in the past that prevents them from thinking outside of their small boxes today? Maybe it is just something as simple as the money they receive for being a "so called" expert that keeps driving them to falsely accuse others of horrific shaken baby crimes? Whatever it is behind the rapid rise in the number of cases each year needs to be put out in the open so that the vast number of people accused or charged falsely of these crimes can be vindicated!

I have made this a personal commitment of mine being that this subject hits close to home for both myself and my family!!

Disorders that mimic SBS

There are other disorders that mimic SBS along with symptoms from accidents, etc.

A few examples of disorders that mimic SBS are:  Benign Enlargement of the Subarachnoid Space (BESS), Genetic Disorders, and Blood Disorders.  Two major mimickers of non-traumatic head trauma are glutaric aciduria and Menkes' disease which is a rare metabolic condition.

Other mimickers can include injuries from a severe car crash, or a fall from a two story building.

Pictures from 2 months to 1 year of age

My son's head circumference growth chart

Benign Enlargement of the Subarachnoid Space

What is BESS?

This is a relatively common disorder. It occurs in approximately 16 percent of infants. It is more common in boys than in girls and frequently has occurred or occurs in other family members. Macrocephaly may or may not be present at birth; if not present at birth, the head circumference rapidly increases to greater than the 95 percentile, and then will tend to parallel the curve.

Imaging is necessary to make the diagnosis. Head ultrasonography or CT scans will demonstrate enlargement of the subarachnoid space inside the head. Children who were born at term and have enlargement of the subarachnoid space typically have normal development and normal neurological examinations, though there are exceptions. These children should be closely observed for developmental or neurological problems. Head growth should be plotted to be certain that head growth slows to a normal rate and begins to parallel the normal curve. Repeat imaging is unnecessary unless head growth deviates from the normal curve, the neurological examination is abnormal, or the development is delayed.

Children with BESS usually do not require surgical intervention. However, they may be at increased risk for a subdural hematoma with minimal or no trauma.

Our experience

My son was diagnosed with Benign Enlargement of the Subarachnoid Space, or BESS. This diagnosis was not reached easily, instead it took several months of testing and accusations of SBS. Along with the fear for our son, we were also faced with fear of jail time and losing our other children to the system. We dealt daily with Child Protective Services and the rude comments and dirty looks that can only be given to child abusers.

He was born 2 months and 1 day premature and spent about 3 weeks in the NICU.  He weighed 4 pounds and 1 ounce at birth, and did not require any interference to survive.  He was able to breath on his own and did not need to be assisted.  The only things he had to face was keeping his body temperature up, remember to breath, and learn to eat and breath at the same time.  These were all minor milestones he had to reach to graduate from the NICU.  He accomplished this within 3 weeks of birth.

The growth of is head increased dramatically from birth up to about 10 months of age.  It appears on the growth chart as almost a straight line upward instead of following a normal growth curve.  He developed normally and hit every milestone on time, if not sooner.  I use to joke about how advanced he was even against his early start at life.  When he was 10 month old he fell in our parlor from a standing position hitting his head very hard off the carpeted floor.  Within a few minutes he had a seizure, in which prompted us to immediately dial 911.  It turned out that a subdural hematoma was shown on a CT scan.  Later that night we were transferred to a Children's Hospital were they noticed subdural hematomas of different ages on the CT scan.  At that moment he was labeled a victim of non-accidental trauma, and somebody had been abusing him since about 4 months of age.

The subdural hematoma that was recent, along with the subdural hematomas of different ages was said to have happened from nothing other than SBS.  He also had a slight retinal bleed that again was from his abuse.  The X-rayed his entire body and found no signs of broken bones or old fractures, and there was no other mark or bruise on him.  We were informed by the "abuse expert" that the injuries our son had can only occur from a severe car crash, a two story fall, or SBS.

Several months later our son's diagnosis somehow changed the "abuse expert's" statement.  His symptoms were from BESS, and the retinal bleed was caused by the pressure inside of his head from the excess fluid and bleeding from the disorder.  This is why my faith in "experts" is not that great.  There was never an apology or let alone an explanation of how it took so long for this diagnosis.  My opinion is that the "medical expert" is not very educated on anything but abuse.  It looked like abuse to him, so it was then called abuse.

I still would like to know how someone can shake a 20 pound infant so violently and not leave any type of bruise of mark on the skin of that child?  In my opinion it would take a very strong grip to do that horrific act!!  It sickens me to this day how we were treated and spoke to.  We were scared parents worried about our son and nobody around us could answer our questions.  The only responsive we heard to our thousands of questions was "It is very indicative to shaken baby syndrome."  In the long run it wasn't SBS, but if it wasn't for the person reading his MRI and making the diagnosis our kids would have been removed and someone would be sitting in prison.

Our son is now 3 years old.  He had his last MRI recently and the enlarged space is finally gone and his head circumference falls on the growth chart for a child his age!  He finally came back onto the growth chart and that is the happiest news for us!!!

Signs and Symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome

There are many signs of Shaken Baby Syndrome but at the same time these signs that may be present are not only seen with SBS.

External Signs

  • poor feeding/eating
  • cardiopulmonary arrest
  • vomiting
  • failure to thrive
  • pale or blush skin
  • seizures
  • lethargic
  • coma

Internal Signs

  • subdural hematomas
  • retinal bleeding
  • bruising of the brain
  • broken bones
  • skull fractures



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    • profile image


      11 months ago

      Hello. We are going through the samething. And need some help. We need a dr

    • Sue Luttner profile image

      Sue Luttner 

      2 years ago

      Thank you for this perceptive and articulate treatment of a difficult topic. I have been following the medical literature and tracking the court cases since 1997, when the niece of a friend was convicted based on a diagnosis of infant shaking. I have seen far more misdiagnoses of non-abusive medical conditions than actual cases of shaken infants. For the story of a family torn apart when their son's metabolic disorder was misdiagnosed as shaking injury, for example, please see

    • JillKostow profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Kostowskie 

      3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Devin if you use facebook please send me a friend request. Jill Kostowskie

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      I am sorry you went through this. My son had the same issues almost. We are still in the middle of it. He was born at 33 weeks. our of nicu in 2 weeks. Had a large head that only kept getting larger. Very straight line on his head circumf. chart. We took him to mayo recently bc him having the flu defin. didn't help diagnosising with NAT. Turns out he has Bess, and sinus thrombosis /mis diagnosed as a hematoma.

    • JillKostow profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Kostowskie 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Sweetsusieg - Sorry to hear about your cousin's experience. Unfortunately the children are never considered. Even after my 3 older children were questioned about abuse and if they ever seen anyone harm the baby or them it was still not enough for them to rule out abuse. I think some doctors want to play the role of the "hero" when no hero is needed. It is a shame. But I did learn that some doctors are excellent at what they do! Luckily our pediatrician and her surpervisor was on our side all along, even though they worked for the same hospital network making the accusations. I am forever grateful to them helping us through that tough time!!!

    • Sweetsusieg profile image


      7 years ago from Michigan

      Wow, how sad for your family to have to go through this. My cousin went through something similar when his girl friends son suffered broken bones. They were treated as pariah when all they wanted was to find out what was wrong with the child. It ended up being a rare condition (honestly can't recall the name) where broken bones were the result.

      Cannot the so called experts tell the difference between concerned parents and abusive ones? Isn't the child even considered? Watching a child's reaction to an abuser is a key as well.

    • JillKostow profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Kostowskie 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you Simone!! You see things from a whole new perspective when something like this crosses your family's path. People need to look at the whole piture more often, rather than just looking at the parts they may recognize.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow, great Hub! This sure is a contentious issue and you've addressed it well. Voted up!


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