Doctors say baby’s brain is permanently damaged

Pediatric neurologists testify at father’s assault trial

Rosie Mullaley
Published on March 18, 2011

When 3-1/2-month-old August Matchim was brought to hospital two years ago, it didn’t take long for doctors to discover she had suffered brain damage.

The damage, they say, is permanent.

Pediatric neurologists Dr. Muhammad Alam and Dr. David Buckley took the stand Thursday at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s in the trial of Colin Matchim, the baby’s father.

The 25-year-old is accused of causing the baby’s brain damage by shaking her. He’s charged with aggravated assault.

It’s alleged that on March 17, 2009, Matchim was home alone with the child while her mother, Kate Coombs, was out running errands.

Coombs told police that when she returned home, she noticed the child was unresponsive, cold and pale.

The baby was taken to the Janeway Children’s Hospital, where doctors suspected shaken baby syndrome.

Medical staff contacted Child Protection Services, who called the police.

Alam first saw August the day after she was brought to hospital, and ran a number of tests on her.

He said when cold water was dropped into her ears, her eyes did not respond they way they should have.

“It indicates (her) brain function is impaired,” Alam said.

He didn’t see any signs of trauma.

An EEG, which measures the brain’s electrical waves, however, revealed there was no activity on the left side of her brain, which controls the right side of her body.

A number of additional EEG tests throughout the week showed little or no change, he said.

When Alam last saw the baby in January 2010, she was 13 months old, but couldn’t sit up on her own, wasn’t talking and had no use of her right hand.

“Her development was very much behind (what a normal child her age would be),” Alam said.

When Crown prosecutor Phil LeFeuvre asked what August’s prognosis is, Alam replied, “I don’t think she will ever recover completely.”

Buckley assessed a number of August’s EEG test results.

He, too, noticed that the left side of her brain had no activity, while the right side showed slow activity and seizure activity — which is consistent with head injuries.

If the seizure activity is untreated, he said, the patient could die.

By his last examination of her on Sept. 10, he said the left side of her brain remained unchange, while there were improvements to the right side.

He said the brain damage she suffered is consistent with what you would see with Shaken Baby Syndrome, but he added other things cannot be ruled out.

He said he last saw August at the Cerebral Palsy Unit at the Children’s Rehab Centre, where she is being treated.

He said she was uttering three words — Ma-ma, Da-da and Bah — but was still developmentally behind.

Buckley said her physical development was at the level of a six-month-old child, while her cognitive development was on par with an eight-to 10-month-old.

“What’s her prognosis?” LeFeuvre asked, repeating the same question he asked to Alam.

“She will continue to have physical disabilities and cognitive disabilities,” he said.

“How severe? Only time will tell.”

The trial continues today, with a radiologist and an ophthalmologist expected to take the stand.