This is her story:
We welcomed our baby girl “Little Bird” into the world on April 14, 2017. In the weeks after her birth we were home falling more and more in love with our baby girl and watching her big brother dote on her. I’ve never seen Eric so enamored with anyone as he was with her from the moment she was born…she already had her daddy wrapped around her little finger.
Over time, she began showing discomfort and grunting after feedings, but thinking that she was experiencing reflux and gas, I continued to try my best to comfort her, nurse her, and help her sleep. By the morning of Thursday, May 11, her color was off and she had stopped nursing entirely...we knew without doubt that something wasn’t normal. I posted a video of her on Facebook to get input from friends on if her grunting seemed like gas or something else and was advised to immediately call her medical care provider to make an appointment for her to be seen that day. They called me back a couple minutes after hanging up and asked if she was “retracting” (meaning the space below her ribs was sucking in with each breath). She was. They advised me to take her to the ER.
Eric stayed home with our son so he wouldn’t have to be in the ER for however long it was going to take. When I got to the ER with our daughter everything moved very quickly. Upon arrival, her O2 sats were 72% so they rushed her to the back and put her on oxygen. As her O2 came up, they poked and prodded her and blew out the veins in her hands and wiggling needles in her arms just to try to find a vein. My little girl who just three weeks prior had come into the world was now laying on a stretcher in front of me and I could do nothing but touch the side of her face and tell her I loved her over and over again. I can’t begin to tell you the fear and helplessness I felt in that moment. They x-rayed her chest and saw fluid, which at the time was thought to be in her lung, and determined that it would be necessary to transfer her to a nearby children's hospital to better diagnose and treat any heart or lung issues that they suspected. I called Eric to let him know what was happening and he rushed to the ER with our son.
Our baby girl was airlifted to a children's hospital in a nearby city and an echocardiogram was performed. To our relief, the doctor said her heart looked completely healthy, but pleural effusions (fluid surrounding her lungs) were detected and a secondary chest X-ray was performed to check for pneumonia. The results of that X-ray threw our world into complete chaos and confusion. Already terrified for our sick baby, we discovered that she had multiple fractures on her ribs. This discovery set into motion a series of tests at the hospital to look for other signs of trauma. A full body X-ray was performed the next day, along with a head CT, and an ultrasound of her abdomen. In addition to the rib fractures, they discovered a subdural hemorrhage and an abnormality on the metaphysis of her tibia, which they diagnosed as a fracture…in that moment she was diagnosed with non-accidental trauma and CPS and law enforcement were notified. We were shocked and completely devastated. To our knowledge the only “trauma” she had had was her older brother accidentally scooting back on her while they were both on the futon, so I began researching other possible explanations for her fractures. We requested further testing, asked to speak with an endocrinologist, gave a family medical history to the geneticist (as much as we knew at the time), and continued to search and hope for answers. We asked multiple doctors how so much alleged trauma could happen with no sign of external injury. We knew we did not injure our precious daughter so there had to be another explanation. They could not answer nor did they look for any other reason other than alleged child abuse.
We spoke with a CPS case worker and investigators from both OSI and the Sheriff’s Department, hoping that if we were fully compliant with them they would help us find out what was going on with our daughter. Our full cooperation was met with being told that we could not be alone with our children. Eric was interrogated through the night, our names and address were released to the media, and my mother rushed across country to us with hopes of keeping our babies out of foster care. For the next few days we continued to spend as much time as we could at the hospital caring for our daughter, asking questions, pleading for more tests, trying to get answers, but their diagnosis had been made, and outside of a single test to rule out Osteogenesis Imperfecta, all other diagnostics stopped.
On May 17th I watched my husband be handcuffed and put into the back of a police car. This man who I’ve loved and built a home with for over 8 years; who I watched become a father to a little boy that he is crazy about; who sacrificed months with his son and I to serve his country in the Air Force; who held my hand and supported me as I gave birth to our beautiful baby girl and cried tears of joy when he saw her for the first time was charged with felony child abuse without an ounce of evidence against him. Eric’s bail was set at $750,000 secured (later dropped to $500,000 secured) which would prohibit almost anyone from being released during the hearing process in order to work with attorneys to build a defense.
Two days later we learned that our children would not be coming home with me or be permitted to stay with my mother since she had spent time around my daughter in the first couple of weeks after her birth. To our horror, they would be taken into CPS custody and placed in the care of a foster family.
Our baby girl was discharged from the hospital on May 18th. Her leg was placed in a soft cast to stabilize her ankle, her pleural effusions resolved on their own after a low dose of diuretics, her rib fractures began to heal but new fractures appeared on a follow up x-ray after she had been out of our care, she has had no known neurological issues and as far as we can tell she is right on track developmentally. In spite of these new fractures all agencies involved still refuse to investigate any other explanation for our daughter’s symptoms and our God-centered, patriotic family has been shattered and pulled apart.
We are thankful and relieved that our beautiful girl is doing amazingly well, but we are still fighting to restore our family and looking for answers, some of which are beginning to come to light. While I cannot get into specific details of the new medical evidence in the case, I am 100% confident in my husband’s innocence.
The documentary “The Syndrome” answers a lot of questions about the controversy surrounding our daughter’s diagnosis and why we now have to fight our hardest for truth and justice for our family. I encourage you to watch it. What we are going through unfortunately is not rare. We are not alone. There are thousands of families who have come before us, who have been forced to fight this identical battle.
I am sharing all of this with you because as we get more answers and insight, we want to invite others to be a part of bringing our family back together. First and foremost: PRAY! And I don't say that lightly. We've seen prayers answered in powerful ways and don't take any prayer for granted...they are vital...they are needed every moment of every day. Second, we need financial support. Our fight encompasses a couple of financial aspects right now:
1. Living Expenses: The Air Force suspended all pay for Eric the day he was arrested and we were not given the option to cash in his leave hours. We have been without pay since May 15 and have only survived by the generosity of family, friends, and our near and extended church family. I am in the process of searching for a job with flexible hours so I can be available for court dates and visitations with my children.
2. Medical: Due to the nature of our daughter’s symptoms and some revelations about our family's genetics, it is necessary to get second opinions and further genetic evaluations for she and I for the sake of her long-term physical wellbeing. Some of these specialists are located in other states which requires some travel and any medical expenses not covered by our insurance. (please note, we make every effort to find specialists nearby, and if travel is absolutely needed, we make these trips as short and inexpensive as possible.)
While this is a huge financial strain,
in compliance with GoFundMe terms,
money raised via this avenue will NOT be used for Eric's defense attorneys.
If you wish to contribute specifically for him, please contact me personally.
Words could not express how grateful we are for the depth of support we have had from our community of family, friends, and even strangers who have reached out. We're praying for truth to be revealed and thank you for whatever help and prayers you can offer towards our goal to find answers and bring our family back together.
I've wanted to call governors, write congressmen, rally the newspapers to right this horrible wrong that is happenng to my family! However, the attorneys handling this case have advised to honor the court system and let them do the battle through the legal system. But that takes time, and in the meantime a home has to be maintained in preparation for court approval for the children to return with no income from the military who has abandoned them.
Please help! Please prayerfully consider making a monthly donation on this page until this is resolved and be a part of a miraclulous reunion for this family. If you cannot do a monthly gift make a one-time gift and show them they are not alone, not forgotten in a broken system. I will update this page to let everyone know how things are progressing.
And please share this story and get the word out!
In Christ alone!
- Leith & Brigitta Whitley
- Kathy Fortner
- Martha Teal
- Rose Valles
Organizer and beneficiary
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