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Omaha doctor testifies in child abuse case

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Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2013 12:00 am

YORK – Dr. Suzanne Haney, a child abuse pediatrician at Children’s Hospital in Omaha, took the stand as a witness for the prosecution in a trial where a York man is accused of felony child abuse.

Dustin Dubas is on trial this week in York County District Court. He is accused of abusing his son when the child was seven weeks old.

Local police were contacted in January, 2011, by a social worker at Children’s Hospital after the baby was transferred by ambulance while having seizures. The doctors said the infant’s condition was a result of “non-accidental head trauma and the baby was found to have numerous brain injuries and retinal hemorrhages.”

Dubas was charged with a Class 2 felony, which carries a possible maximum sentence of 50 years in prison if convicted. He’s pleaded not guilty to the charge.

During opening arguments, the prosecution told the jury that Dubas was under stress and sleep deprived while caring for his son, as the child’s mother was at work. York County Attorney Candace Dick contends that Dubas was alone with the baby when the first signs of trauma were displayed (Jan. 21, 2011) and suggests a situation of Shaken Baby Syndrome. The symptoms, she argues, continued to grow worse until the baby began seizing several days later and had to be rushed to the Omaha intensive care unit.

The defense, however, has argued two points. First, they suggest that the child’s medical condition was a pre-existing situation and was not the result of abuse. Attorney Doug Stratton also argues that if this was a situation of abuse, there is no proof to say with certainty who may have committed that abuse. He maintains that Dubas is innocent.

Dr. Haney testified that the baby was admitted to Children’s Hospital on Jan. 31, 2011, “and based on his condition, doctors were concerned that he may have been the victim of abuse and called me in to consult. There were multiple doctors involved in his care.”

Dr. Haney said she spoke with both of the baby’s parents. “The mother said his illness started Jan. 21 when he began vomiting and was extremely fussy. She took the baby to see a doctor (in York) and his condition was attributed to formula intolerance. The symptoms persisted and on the 31st, he began having jerking movements and Mom called 911.

“Mr. Dubas -- the father -- his story was very similar and like the mother couldn’t remember any injuries” to the baby, Haney continued.

“The baby, prior to this, was smiling socially and fixing on objects, starting to hold his head up,” Dr. Haney reported, based on information she received from the baby’s parents. “He was normal for a child that age.”

Dr. Haney said she performed a physical examination of the baby. “His head was over-sized. The soft spot on the baby’s head was bulging and very firm which is alarming because it is a sign of increased pressure inside his head. It should have been flat and soft.”

She testified that she also had concerns about the baby’s eyes as she thought she saw retinal hemorrhaging in the back of his eyes. She referred the baby to Dr. Dean Arkfeld who examined the child and reported back that he found “hemorrhaging in the back of both eyes. This means there were collections of blood in the back of the eyes.”

Haney noted that she did not see bruising on the child’s arms or legs, “but he wasn’t moving them, which is not normal for a baby that age.”

The jury was shown images obtained by an MRI and CT scan that were performed on the baby. Using these images, Dr. Haney pointed out and described that the baby’s “skull bones were being pushed apart due to the brain pressure. They shouldn’t have been that split, which is a sign of a significant amount of pressure. Also, we see space between the brain and the skull, with that space filled with blood.

“Also, on these scans, you can see bright and dark areas,” Dr. Haney showed the jury. “These are areas of injury to his brain and the cells in that area that have died. A brain injury, at this point, means areas of the brain are dying – and once an area is dead, it cannot be revived.”

She said further that at the very back of the baby’s brain, “there was injury on both sides, which is significant because if there is such a large area of injury that means the whole brain was subjected to some type of trauma. A blow, or blunt impact, will cause a focal injury to one area – not the entire area such as seen here.”

The trial is expected to continue throughout the week.

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