There were statistics, graphics and numerous handouts, but the primary teaching tool at Monday's Shaken Baby Syndrome seminar at the I Avenue Community Day School in Hesperia was an angelic-faced, wheel-bound 8-year-old girl named Madison.
"We'll never be sure what happened," said Royane Walker, the girl's grandmother and legal guardian. "My daughter was at work. Her father was frustrated and shook her. It only took three seconds. She was nine weeks old. She'll be nine weeks old for the rest of her life."
Walker and another adult daughter, Maggie Kershaw, presented the hour-and-a-half long program to students in teacher Thomas Howe's class at the county-run day school, a program for at-risk teens who don't fit into a typical high school environment.
"Stop it!" Kershaw said as she carried a special doll to demonstrate the dangers of SBS into the classroom. She quickly shook the doll several times, causing lights to illuminate inside its plastic head. "This is exactly what you don't want to do with a baby."
According to Kershaw, such rapid, violent jerks of a baby's head can cause severe brain damage, even death. Typically, SBS causes paralysis, seizures and convulsions. A victim, such as Madison, can also lose her ability to suck or swallow and must be fed through a tube in her stomach. Many become blind or lose peripheral vision.
And many victims are male, perhaps because boys are frequently higher-strung than girls, prompting frustration by a parent. Statistically, most perpetrators are the baby's father, or the mother's boyfriend, she added.
"Take a deep breath," Kershaw suggested to the future parents. "Count to 10. Read a good, inspirational poem or book, and always call for help. Remind yourself that the crying will end. You want to try everything you can think of."
Importantly, the students learned that it's completely normal for a baby to cry two to three hours a day, or more.
"It's their way of communicating," Kershaw added.
According to Howe, the one-time class will encourage students to become productive and helpful community members. Not only do some of Howe's students have infant siblings at their homes, but two male students are expecting to become young fathers in a matter of months.
"We have a lot of lessons to teach, and it's not just language arts."
The life of Walker, one of two teacher's assistants in Howe's class, changed dramatically after her granddaughter was shaken.
"I was ready to retire. We had six kids. Now there's no more camping. No more horses. Now everything is centered around Madison," Walker said.
But she has faith that her new journey has a special purpose, both to serve her helpless child and spread the work that shaking a baby can change more than just one life forever.
"You can't really make sense of what happens," Walker said, "but you have to make good of what happened."
Shaken Baby Syndrome facts
• 1,200 to 1,600 suffer from trauma caused by violent shaking every year in the U.S.
• SBS kills about one third of its victims and permanently disables another third.
• SBS, which was first described in the 1970s, can cause severe brain damage, resulting in lifelong disability.
• Non-fatal consquences of SBS include visual, motor and cognitive impairments.
• SBS has several medical diagnoses including retinal hemorrhages, multiple fractures of the head's long bones and bleeding in the brain.
• Other signs include irritability, failure to thrive, lethargy, vomiting and seizures.
For additional information, log onto www.dontshake.org.