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Grandfather's mission: Stop shaken babies

Gresham's Jim Kaufer speaks out to prevent fate met by his granddaughter Rockell DiNucci


It’s been five years — six as of this coming Sept. 9 — since a young father’s reckless act forever changed the course of his infant daughter’s life.

In the seconds it took for Brandon DiNucci to shake his 6-week-old daughter, he injured her brain so severely she can’t sit or stand on her own.

That act of frustration, anger and abuse not only altered Rockell DiNucci’s life, it altered those of everyone around her.by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Rockell DiNucci, 5, cant talk, walk, stand or move on her own, but she loves music and enjoys the company of smiling, laughing people. She knows happiness, said her grandmother Lisa Kaufer.

Her father, now 26, was released from prison last summer on June. 29. He pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted assault and received a five-year sentence. With time off for good behavior, he served about four years and can’t have any contact with his daughter for three years.

Rockell’s mother, Ashley Ashford, with help from Ashley’s parents Jim and Lisa Kaufer, care for the girl around the clock.

For years, Jim tried to process the growing anger inside him. Three months ago, he finally did something about it.

Jim filmed a video, showing in shocking detail, what happens to the brain of a baby who is violently shaken. It’s stomach-churning, heart-stopping, tear-jerking stuff — and it’s gotten 11,737 hits on YouTube. (To see it, search the site for Jim Kaufer or for “Want to stop your baby from crying?”)

Since then, he’s received emails from all over the globe.

“Full House,” a magazine in the United Kingdom is featuring an article about Rockell in its May 9 issue.

Next Monday, April 22, he and Rockell will join others in Portland at the Multnomah County Courthouse as part of the first Million March Against Child Abuse, a national effort to bring attention to child abuse prevention and to fight for tougher penalties for child abusers.by: OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO - Jim Kaufer, grandfather of Rockell DiNucci, has become involved in various organizations to prevent child abuse and raise awareness about the dangers of shaking a baby. OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO

When they’re done there, they’ll go to a hospital, where Rockell’s mom is scheduled to give birth to a baby boy, Cruz.

Because, despite how drastically all of their lives changed on Sept. 9, 2007, life does go on.

Life changes in an instant

While Rockell, then just an infant, was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, she stopped breathing a block from the family’s Gresham home.

Doctors told Ashley her baby was not viable. She’d never be able to breathe, eat, talk or walk without assistance.

Extreme swelling of her brain and bleeding had turned most of the baby’s brain to spinal fluid, leaving just the brain stem in the back of her brain intact.

Rockell stunned doctors by breathing and eating on her own. She’s had five brain surgeries. Her right eye is a prosthetic. She can detect light in her left eye, but is legally blind.

Her limited physical abilities also are deteriorating. A few years ago, Rockell could roll from her belly onto her back, but otherwise couldn’t move on her own. Now she can’t even do that.

She used to be able to stand for a few hours in a device called a stander, which helps prevent hip displacement. Now, she can stand for about 20 minutes - partly because her right hip is displaced, which makes it painful to place weight on her leg.

Her deterioration is due to a number of factors. She’s getting older, growing bigger and her brain can’t keep up with the changes, Jim said.

Not being able to afford all the physical therapy she needs is another issue. Rockell needs two to three sessions a week, with each session lasting two to three hours, in order to keep her muscles from atrophying and to stay limber.

Instead, she gets one hour once a week.

The state pays for 24 sessions a year, so the family is paying out-of-pocket for the other 28 sessions she gets each year.

In July when Rockell turns 6, the state will cut the number of covered sessions in half to 12.

With the girl’s father negligent on his child-support payments — as of April 2, he owed $3,256 — the family has no way to pay for the uncovered physical therapy sessions.

Brandon DiNucci did not return a phone call asking for comment on this article.

There is no fix

DiNucci was still in prison when Ashley divorced him. She got remarried last November. Her new husband, Chris Ashford, graduated from Sam Barlow High School’s class of 2005 along with Ashley and her ex-husband.

Chris and Ashley have a daughter, Rahya, who turns 2 in May.

The family lives in a house right across the street from her parent’s home in Southeast Gresham.

This allows Rockell’s grandparents to take care of her as much as they possibly can. In fact, while Ashley is pregnant with baby No. 3, and chasing after a toddler, Rockell is living with her grandparents.

“It’s the best thing for Rockell for now, and we love having her here,” Jim said.

Jim is active with several online support groups for those dealing with the affects of shaken baby syndrome, lending advice and perspective. He also fields invitations to speak at events and has become deeply involved in shaken baby awareness efforts.

With his YouTube video being so well received, he plans to make a series of them showing everything from Rockell’s physical therapy to what it takes to prepare her food and feed her. She must be spoon fed pureed food, much like you’d feed a baby. She also will wear diapers for the rest of her life.

“Her injuries are permanent,” he said. “When you shake a baby, and you ruin their brain, they’re done. It is truly like Humpty Dumpty. You can’t put it together again.”

So Rockell will never walk.

Or stand unassisted.

Or do so many of the things most people take for granted.

As Jim speaks, Rockell’s mother nods her head in agreement.

“There’s no hope,” Ashley said.

But that doesn’t diminish their love for Rockell.

“We have to make the best of her life and give her love,” Lisa said.

And that’s just what they’re doing.

“She smiles, she knows when people are around,” Lisa said. “If they’re laughing and playing with her she smiles. She knows happiness.”

“Rockell has this super cute little personality percolating just under the surface,” Jim said. “And she’ll smile sometimes as if to say, ‘I hear what you guys are saying. I can’t respond, but I hear you.’ ”

If you go

What: Million March Against Child Abuse

When: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, April 22

Where: Multnomah County Courthouse, 1021 S.W. Fourth Ave.

Details: A nonpartisan, grass roots, nationwide effort to unite all child advocates in solidarity on April 22, 2013, for peaceful demonstrations against child abuse. The event is timed to take place in April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, to raise awareness and ask for tougher sentencing for violent crimes against children in the U.S.

Protests are taking place in Washington, D.C., and in cities across the nation.

Experts have many suggestions for calming parents and babies. Here are a few.

How to calm a frazzled parent

• Take a deep breath and count to 10.

• Leave the baby in a safe place, like a crib, and walk away. Leave the room and take a break.

• Call a trusted friend or relative to take over for a while. Then get away, get some rest; in short, take care of your needs, too.

• Contact a local parenting support group, mom’s club or dad’s club.

How to calm a crying baby

• Make sure basic needs are met. Feed, burp, change the diaper. Is the baby wearing comfortable clothes? Is she or he too warm or too cold?

• Take baby for a walk outside in a stroller or for a car ride.

• Hold baby against your chest and gently massage. Also, breathe slowly and calmly. Some babies respond to a parent’s calmness and quiet down.

• Rock, walk or dance with baby.

• Offer a pacifier, rattle or toy.

• Lower any surrounding noise or lights. Or turn on some white noise, like a vacuum, hair dryer or a similar recording. Singing or talking in soothing tones also might help.

• If all else fails, make sure the baby is in a safe place, like a crib, and walk away. Take a break.

Sources: The Shaken Baby Alliance, aboutshakenbaby.com




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