Using the lie that shaken baby syndrome is a misdiagnosis for vaccine injury to try to exonerate another accused child abuser

Remember Alan Yurko?

To remind those of you not familiar with this particularly odious excuse for a human being, I’ll briefly relate who he is and why he’s so vile. Alan Yurko is a baby killer, pure and simple. He shook his 10-week-old son to death. Normally, such a pitiful excuse for a human being would not be “worthy” of comment, much less admiration, but not to the antivaccine movement. Yurko was sentenced to life in prison without parole for his crime but somehow managed to find himself the “hero” of a campaign

I first learned of this vile concept when I learned of the case of Alan Yurko. Yurko gained “fame” (if you can call it that) when he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the murder of his 10-week-old son, who was shaken to death. Somehow, Yurko became the centerpiece of a campaign (Free Yurko) that featured as the centerpiece of its argument for Yurko’s innocence the claim that shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is in realty “vaccine injury” and that Yurko’s son died not of injuries sustained by vigorous shaking but by “vaccine injury.” Unfortunately, ultimately Yurko was released early, not because the courts agreed with the lie that it was vaccine injury, not SBS, that killed Yurko’s son. Rather, it was because apparently the coroner’s office where the autopsy was done on the dead baby was the most shoddily run morgue ever and incompetent coroner ever. As Australian skeptic Peter Bowditch put it:

I want you to think about a dead baby. This baby was ten weeks old when he died. The autopsy revealed bleeding around the brain, in the eyes and in the spinal column. There were bruises on the sides of his head. Another thing that the autopsy showed was four broken ribs. These fractures had started to heal, and therefore indicated a pattern of physical abuse prior to the date of death. The father admitted to holding the baby by his feet and hitting him shortly before he died. I now want to you to form an opinion of the father. If you are the sort of person who opposes vaccination, you would see this man as a hero. You would see him as a martyr to the cause and would try to get him released from prison. In a breathtaking demonstration of what it can mean to believe that the end justifies the means, the anti-vaccination liars have adopted Alan Yurko as a symbol that they can use to frighten parents into refusing vaccination for their children. You can read a loathsome justification for this murderer at http://www.woodmed.com/ShakenBabyAlan.htm.

I’ve discussed the case of Alan Yurko and the antivaccine movement’s most shameless vile lie (namely, that SBS is a “misdiagnosis” for vaccine injury) in detail before on more than one occasion. It’s a “concept” that one Harold Buttram appears to have championed more than anyone else, although others, like Catherine Frompovich and F. Edward Yazbak, have also promoted this concept.

Let’s put it this way. The myth that SBS is really “vaccine injury” is actually so detestable that even some of the most rabid antivaccine activists out there generally won’t touch it with the proverbial ten-foot cattle prod. Even the merry band of antivaccine propagandists at that wretched hive of scum and quackery, Age of Autism, don’t mention this “hypothesis,” and they tend to ignore the occasional commenter who does. Apparently even AoA editors have at least a little bit of a sense of shame, and I haven’t heard much in a long time about others trying to avoid paying for having injured or killed their babies by claiming that SBS is really vaccine injury.

Until now:

Just a few years ago Tonya and Elwood Sadowsky believed that life could not get any better after Tonya gave birth to a beautiful baby girl Amanda. For the first time ever the couple were happier than they ever thought possible. Sadly, their happiness was cut short when aged just four months old Amanda died unexpectedly. Elwood was immediately arrested and charged for his daughter’s murder because he was caring for his daughter at the time she was taken ill.

Amazingly, in June 2007, without ever having a trial, Elwood Sadowsky was jailed for life for Shaken Baby Syndrome. According to wife Tonya, Elwood was forced into taking a guilty plea a few days before the trial was due to have started. He was threatened by the prosecution and emotionally blackmailed by his own lawyers. This was due to the fact that his lawyers did not know how to defend him! Tonya says:

“They literally didn’t know anything about ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ and believed the doctors’ diagnosis which was: homicidal blunt force trauma.”

And:

Amanda died from multiple skull fractures and the triad of injuries associated with Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) which are Retinal haemorrhages (bleeding into the linings of the eyes); subdural haemorrhages (bleeding beneath the dural membrane); Encephalopathy (damage to the brain affecting function).

Anyone familiar with the case of Alan Yurko can see where this is going, and that is indeed exactly where it went. The next part of Tonya’s story consists of a citation of one John D. Lloyd, Ph.D., M.Erg.S., CPE, CBIS, who seems to have some legitimacy in that he has some peer-reviewed publications, eighteen on PubMed. None of them, as far as I can tell, are related to SBS. He does, however, appear on a directory of expert witnesses, which suggests to me that a great deal of his “professional activity” is to testify on behalf of whoever pays him. None of that means he’s a bad guy or not a decent scientist, but when it comes to SBS, I do find it rather odd that he has several publications on other topics related to ergonomics and brain injury but somehow hasn’t managed to score a single peer-reviewed publication supporting his contention that shaking cannot produce enough force to cause the constellation of injuries associated with SBS. In fact, looking at his CV, the only references we find are as follows:

Let’s put it this way. Although it’s not uncommon for people to list publications they have “in preparation” or “submitted” to journals, I’ve never seen a CV listing abstracts submitted to conferences. Why? Because abstracts are the lowest form of scientific publication. I could easily whip off a list of abstracts submitted to various conferences, having submitted the abstracts. I might even get them accepted, too, because the bar for acceptance for abstracts is much lower than it is for getting a manuscript published in a peer-reviewed journal. Indeed, some conferences basically accept every abstract submitted for at least a poster presentation, barring obvious problems with them. I also find it rather curious that Dr. Lloyd doesn’t actually mention which conference he’s submitted his three abstracts to. If I were going to list on my CV abstracts I’ve submitted but that have not yet been accepted, I’d also include the full name of the conference, such as the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress (which I just attended last week, in case anyone wondered why my blogging activity took a dive towards mid-week), the American Association for Cancer Research, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the Society of Surgical Oncology, and the like. One wonders if Dr. Lloyd submitted to the Twelfth International Conference on Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma or the Twelfth International Conference on Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS)/Abusive Head Trauma. Or was it this conference?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Now, I realize that we don’t know everything there is to know about SBS. Nor do I normally have a problem with research that questions the prevailing hypothesis, if the research is well done. However, when I see someone like Dr. Lloyd agree to work for a defense team that is using the claim that vaccines are the cause of SBS, then I have a problem:

Examining the timeline of this case an extremely important fact emerges. It is obvious to even the untrained eye that this baby suffered adverse reactions after each vaccination. Her first possible reaction was noted within 24 hours of the Hepatitis B vaccine which she received at birth. Tonya said:

“When she got the Hep B, I wasn’t told. She was wheeled into my room SCREAMING her full head off, thrust into my arms with the comment, “She’s upsetting the other (inmates) babies in the nursery”.

“She was jaundiced by the next day.”

In his report Dr Buttram wrote:

“On the next day, Feb. 17th, according to mother’s notes, Amanda was brought in to her from the nursery screaming, as “she was bothering the other babies in the nursery,” suggestive of an encephalalitic reaction to the hepatitis B vaccine, something rarely recognized for its true nature.”

Leading to this speculation:

Did Amanda suffer from this reaction and was this the reason that baby Amanda was so distressed? If so the injuries found just weeks later may have been caused by the Hepatitis B vaccine, however, this possibility this was never investigated.

Note that none of this explains how Amanda got multiple skull fractures, much less the injury pattern consistent with traumatic injuries of the sort caused by shaking and trauma seen in SBS. Does Dr. Lloyd really want to hitch his wagon to a group that tries to argue that vaccines can somehow cause fractures? Those must be some magical vaccines! I know, I know, Elwood admits that he dropped Amanda, but in general his story as described in this article doesn’t add up. Dr. Lloyd’s argument seems to be somewhat contradictory as well. He points out that falls from as low as two and a half feet can produce fatal head injuries, but then claims that it’s not possible to shake a baby hard enough to cause the constellation of injuries seen in SBS. The defense then argues that Elwood suffered from a condition that caused him to black out and pass out periodically (which, if true, tells me that he should never be carrying a baby). Perhaps the most ludicrous is the claim that somehow the use of oxytocin to induce Tonya’s labor resulted in brain damage in Amanda of the sort seen in the postmortem. Taken as a whole, the defense case sounds like a typical antivaccine case trying to exonerate a parent accused of shaking his baby to death: Throw out all sorts of pseudoscientific and quacky nonsense and see if any of it sticks. He dropped the baby! But he has a disease that causes him to black out. But the baby was “vaccine-injured” and her mom’s labor was induced with oxytocin, which caused brain injury! It’s an “everything but the kitchen sink” defense.

It’s not clear from this article whether Dr. Lloyd was hired by the defense, but it’s probably a good bet that he was, given his consulting and testimony business. If I were him, I’d advise him to drop these clients like the proverbial hot potato. While it’s true that when a baby dies of traumatic brain injury consistent with SBS it is not always clear how it happened and every defendant accused of a crime like child abuse deserves a vigorous defense, just as all people accused of any crime do, if Dr. Lloyd wants to save whatever scientific respectability he has, he would do well to run, not walk, from the likes of Harold Buttram, Viera Scheibner, Michael D. Innis, and the rest, all of whom are so far on the fringe that most antivaccinationists tend to stay far, far away from their views with respect to SBS.

I’d suggest that it’s not only bad for Dr. Lloyd’s reputation to be associated with such people, but that it could well be bad for his business. Even if he has not been hired by the Sadowskys (which seems unlikely but must be considered to be possible), this hurts him. After all, even if Elwood Sadowsky actually did only accidentally drop Amanda, as his defense claims, the arguments being used to try to exonerate him consist of the rankest pseudoscience argued by the rankest of quacks, and that’s what and whom Dr. Lloyd is associating himself with. It could be very bad for his credibility to associate with such cranks.

Even worse for him, it could be bad for business. After all, credibility is key to being an expert witness.