John and Jenni Markello know they’re the lucky ones. The Canton couple watch as their 8-month-old son, Parker, gets up on all fours in that “I’m ready to start crawling” position, and they know their little bundle of joy has come a long way since suffering a head trauma when he allegedly was shaken by a caretaker.
John and Jenni Markello know they’re the lucky ones.
The Canton couple watch as their 8-month-old son, Parker, gets up on all fours in that “I’m ready to start crawling” position, and they know their little bundle of joy has come a long way since suffering a head trauma when he allegedly was shaken by a caretaker.
“Statistically, it’s like winning the lottery for how well he’s doing,” said John Markello. “It’s amazing for him to go from near death to no movement on his left side … and now anyone who sees him can’t tell what he’s incurred.”
No criminal charges have been filed in the case.
Fulton County State’s Attorney John Clark said the problem is, there isn’t enough evidence pointing to who inflicted the abuse on Parker.
“Was it the father? The mother? A caretaker? From what we have, there really isn’t enough evidence to where I feel comfortable bringing charges,” Clark said. “Here we have no adult eyewitness and no confession.
“It’s one of the most frustrating parts of our job — telling someone we can’t file criminal charges,” he said. “Wish we could, but it wouldn’t be the right thing to do.”
But this story isn’t about placing blame.
This is a story of awareness.
It begins on Jan. 16, when John received several urgent phone messages from the baby sitter, setting in motion a chain of events this couple never imagined they’d deal with.
Jenni, 33, who teaches high school-age kids at Canton’s alternative school, was at an in-service meeting in the high school library when John rushed in, waving his hands and yelling “Jenni” to a roomful of teachers.
She grabbed her belongings and ran out. Parker was on his way to Graham Hospital in Canton and would be taken by LifeFlight to Children’s Hospital of Illinois at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, John told her.
John’s morning began by dropping off the kids — Parker, then about 5 months old, and his 2-year-old sister, Sydney — at the baby sitter’s house across town.
It was opening day of the late season for deer hunting, and John, 34, a technical document author for Caterpillar Inc., had taken the day off. It was one of those crazily frigid days in January, so John decided to hang out at home until the temperatures warmed up enough for him to hunt in the afternoon.
He played some Xbox 360, and at one point he checked his phone and saw he had four missed calls from the baby sitter.
He immediately called her and was told, “Parker hit his head and was acting funny,” he said. “I took off and got there within just a few minutes. I went in and called 911 immediately, before I even reached him. He was in a seizure — stiff as a board, his arms were straight out, his wrists were turned in, his feet were turned in and he was moaning.”
John followed the instructions of the 911 dispatcher and waited for the paramedics to arrive. When they arrived, he hurried to scoop up his young daughter, who was witnessing her baby brother in duress.
The baby sitter told the couple she was sitting on the hardwood floor holding a standing Parker between her legs. Parker was jumping up and down, got away from the baby sitter’s grip and fell back and hit his head, the Markellos said.
The couple arrived at Graham, “and it was all a blur,” John said.
The Journal Star contacted the baby sitter involved in the case. She did not respond to requests for comment.
The next step
At Children’s Hospital, Parker was intubated for a brief time because of another seizure and spent three days in the children’s intensive care unit. He eventually spent nine days in the intermediate care unit as the seizures continued.
Through various tests, doctors determined Parker had a nonaccidental traumatic brain injury, or shaken baby syndrome. There was bleeding on the brain but no external bumps or bruises indicating that he was struck on the head, his parents said.
Further, Dr. Steven Lichtenstein, associate clinical professor of surgery and pediatrics for University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria with a specialty in pediatric ophthalmology, saw a “lot of blood in the retina in the back of both eyes.
“It was very severe. It takes a lot of shaking to make the blood vessels in the back of the eyes to burst,” he said. “The eyes literally go back and forth within the orbits and causes blood vessels to break.”
Lichtenstein is the ophthalmologist called in for these types of cases at Children’s Hospital.
“Unfortunately, we see hundreds of these cases,” he said. “We had a real rash of them a couple months ago.”
As for Parker’s case, Lichtenstein said there was concern about a loss of vision. The blood has since cleared in the left eye, and the more damaged right eye is beginning to focus better.
“But it’s too early to tell if the optic nerve has been damaged,” he said. “It’s a watch and see.”
The road to recovery
Parker has endured three months of anti-seizure medications, CAT scans and endless occupational, speech, eating and physical therapies.
Dr. Andrew Morgan, medical director for pediatric rehabilitation at Children’s Hospital, said Parker has improved so greatly that he doubts he’ll have to see him for any follow-ups. Parker has been receiving therapy through Morgan’s office but has dealt only with the individual therapists.
“There are no significant concerns,” he said. “I know he’s doing well.”
Admittedly, though, the whole recovery process takes times.
“With shaken baby syndrome, there’s a lot of hidden damage,” Morgan said. “In my experience with these kids, interestingly, it seems they really do well or end up devastatingly impaired — cerebral palsy, seizures, mental retardation, visual impairment, and it’s very severe.”
For Parker, who is hitting his six-month benchmarks, his mother sees progress every day.
“He’s seriously our miracle child,” she said.
Jenni recalls during the worst of things hearing that various prayer chains were established.
“Someone told me about one lady from Utah. I don’t know how it worked, but it worked,” she said. “I’m very, very positive he’s going to make a full recovery.”
Jenni knows freak accidents can happen, but she’s not convinced that was the case with Parker.
“I talked to (Dr. Lichtenstein) about two weeks after the incident, and he described the extent the forward and back shaking motion had to have been to have caused the damage he saw in Parker’s eyes,” Jenni said. “That was when I finally was convinced it wasn’t some freak accident.”
But she doesn’t dwell on what happened.
“I’m just 100 percent trying to focus on him,” she said. “I don’t want to let anger seep in. I don’t need that in my life.”
John said the whole experience has been “really, really tough on our marriage and family in general. We have amazing support in our family, and I don’t think we would have gotten through it without them.
“I’m a person who likes to get results very quickly, but with this injury we have to wait and wait and wait until he gets older and see what comes about,” he said. “You try to keep it out of your head, but it never goes away. Through this all, Jenni and I have realized how strong we are and how great we are together.”
As for Parker, “he’s just doing phenomenal,” John said. “His spirit is awesome.”
Sharing their story
The Markellos wanted to share their experience with others to bring awareness to child abuse (April is child abuse awareness month).
“I think it’s just that I was the last person who would believe this would happen,” Jenni said. “People need to know it does happen, it can happen, and he deserves something. Parker saved his life, he fought for his life, and now no one is fighting for him. It breaks my heart.
“I’m not out for blood, I just want people to wake up and be aware. It’s not always a bad person who does this. In a split second, they can make a bad decision.”
John agrees, and he also wanted people to understand what the entire family goes through in situations like theirs.
“You hear about incidents, but you don’t understand how much that family is going to go through, and not just for a few months or a year, especially with babies. It’s going to be years,” he said.
“And the person who inflicted the abuse, they’ve already done their part, they don’t have to worry about the development — is he going to be able to see, have speech problems, agility programs — the list is endless.
“There’s no baby out there that does anything to justify any abuse. When they cry, it’s for a reason,” he said. “It’s just the innocence that’s ripped away from them that bothers you.”
Lisa Coon can be reached at (309) 686-3041 or firstname.lastname@example.org.