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Hope For Hunter founder Jacqueline Rodriguez provides informative SBS presentations for parent groups, childcare providers and early childhood educators in Denver and surrounding areas. For more information or to schedule a presentation, please contact her via e-mail at: email@example.com
Rodriguez, SBS Educator
"Hope For Hunter" Founder In The News...
The following TV interview transcripts provide background information about Jacqueline Rodriguez and her personal experience as a mother of an SBS victim.
NEWS4 met up with the shaken-baby syndrome educator described below at a NEWS4 Our Community forum with the group Family Voices. If you would like a forum in your area, or if you have an idea for a community story, call NEWS4 at (303) 830-6477 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shaken-baby syndrome is the most common cause of death in infants due to child abuse. Babies that survive are often left with long-term, devastating disabilities.
DENVER (KCNC) - Five years ago, the story of a family tragedy in Colorado called attention to shaken-baby syndrome. It was the high profile case of a 14-month-old boy who was severely shaken by his babysitter. Doctors didn't think he would survive, but what happened to the boy, and his mother, is remarkable. It was a life-changing trauma; one that has inspired Jacqueline Rodriguez to help many others in Colorado, NEWS4 reports.
Jacqueline Rodriguez is not a doctor or a nurse or even a hospital worker. She's a mother, and one who knows first hand how devastating shaking a baby can be. She has become a shaken-baby educator. Rodriguez recently spoke before a group called Survival for New Mom's at St. Joseph's Hospital. The group is designed to help mothers understand the dangers and challenges involved when raising a child. At the meeting, Rodriguez gave a lesson in shaken-baby syndrome. Using jello to simulate a baby's brain, she demonstrated the damage that can be done by shaking a baby.
"When it's shaken it goes back and forth ... in a whiplash motion," she told the group. "As that occurs, the brain hits the front of the skull, then the back of the skull, causing tearing, bleeding and then swelling."
Within a second, the shaking of a baby can change a mother's whole world. In 1998, Jacqueline Rodriguez's whole world changed when her son Hunter was shaken by a babysitter. It was a miracle that Hunter survived at all. Doctors thought he would never recover from the trauma he suffered.
"He's come from where we thought we weren't going to get him back at all," Rodriguez said in 1998. "He's a miracle."
Hunter was paralyzed on his left side, blind in both eyes and large parts of his brain were completely dead. But after weeks in the intensive care unit, Hunter had recovered enough to go home. At that point, Hunter's long road to recovery had just begun.
"He had to learn to suck again," Rodriguez said. "He had to learn to eat again. He had to relearn to crawl." Hunter initially had to attend 12 therapies a week. In the end, all the work paid off, with miraculous strides in Hunter's development. He can now play soccer and go out and have fun like any other 6-year-old boy.
Hunter still goes to therapy, but only three times a week. And while he looks and acts like other children, he still has developmental problems. "(He has trouble) fine-motor-wise; he's definitely delayed and not able to write like other children his age," Rodriguez said.
Hunter will probably always be in special education classes, but his mother has high hopes for him. "I want to see him drive a car and go to prom," Rodriguez said. "I want him to be able to have choices."
He may never drive a car, but Hunter already has more choices than he did 5 years ago, and his mother has made the choice to use this experience to educate others. Rodriguez says telling her story and teaching about shaken-baby syndrome has become a form of therapy for her. She says her goal is to "get the word out to (mothers,) care providers, their family members and anyone in the community -- to let them know how devastating shaking a baby can be."
(Copyright 2003 NEWS4Colorado.com. Reprinted with persmission.)
Hunter's mom says there is a special spirit about her son. Seven-year-old Hunter Rodriguez is gentle and trusting, despite the horrible thing that happened to him. His loving nature has been an inspiration to his mom, Jackie.
Jackie Rodriguez says there was a time she felt so driven by hatred it was hard to love purely at all. She says, "It just consumed my entire life." Jackie says she would watch Hunter play on the floor with his sister and think about all that had been taken from him. All because of one terrible day.
It was October 1998. Hunter was at his babysitter's house when the call came. Something was wrong with Hunter. Investigators later determined that the babysitter had shaken 14-month-old Hunter so hard that he suffered a massive brain injury.
At Children's Hospital he was in a vegetative state. He couldn't see. Doctors didn't know if he'd ever get any better. Jackie Rodriguez says, "Right then I prayed for a miracle that he'd just live, that we would have one more day with him."
When Hunter left the hospital about three weeks later the headlines in the newspaper read "Miracle Child." Jackie and her family believed that with all of their hearts. But over time, she says, it was harder to see the blessings through the haze of anger that was overcoming her. She says, "I was so angry I honestly wanted to cause bodily harm to her the way she hurt my son."
The babysitter was sentenced to five years in prison. Even when the babysitter was behind bars, Jackie says she couldn't think of anything else. She went door to door for days on end getting signatures on a petition to keep the woman in prison. For four years, revenge was a driving force in her life.
One day that all changed.
She sat down at her computer and says she knew she needed to let go of the anger that was taking the joy out of even the little things in life. She began to write a letter to the woman in prison for nearly killing her child.
She wrote, "I don't even know where to begin. I have been trying to think over and over in my mind what and how I should say what has been bottled up inside my head for nearly the past four years. I am very grateful to God that Hunter continues his road to recovery, however I have become very bitter and resentful for the hatred that I have been harboring in my heart. Like you, I am a prisoner as well. I am a prisoner of my hatred.
Jackie says as she wrote she could feel a burden being lifted off of her heart.
"Life is too short to spend hating and fighting," she wrote. "I want to live.
"I am forgiving you. I mean this from my heart and soul. I was held a prisoner of my hatred and my forgiveness has set me free. I forgive you, now forgive yourself and start living."
Prison is a place where hope is hard to come by. So for a woman who had called a 5 foot by 5 foot cell her home for more than two years, Jackie's letter was a remarkable and unexpected gift.
From her cell, Hunter's babysitter wrote a letter back. "Dear Jackie, I am still in shock over all of your caring words. To be able to forgive the unforgivable. To give the gift of hope to someone as unworthy as me. I couldn't live with myself or forgive myself so how could anyone else? It has to be a miracle. I have prayed and begged for your forgiveness and this is my answered prayer. Please know how deeply sorry I am."
Jackie says since the letters exchanged between the two women were the outward expression of a miracle that happened in her heart. Since then, Jackie says her life has changed dramatically.
"It's like I was living in black and white and now I'm in color. It was so beautiful.
"It's amazing when I think about her I have no anger there is absolutely nothing there."
She hopes her story will inspire others to let go of the anger that might be keeping them from living life to the fullest. She says, "If forgiveness can knock on your heart, tap on your heart and if it's whispering in your ear listen to that message."
Hunter suffered permanent brain damage but continues to improve. He's in 1st grade. He struggles with learning disabilities and impaired vision because of his brain injury. His parents are optimistic he'll keep surprising the doctors in his recovery.
(Copyright 2004 9NEWS.com. Reprinted with persmission.)
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