Two days before her first birthday, Claire Fishpaw was shaken by her babysitter – someone who had been vetted through a publicly supported child care referral agency.
Claire beat the odds and survived this nightmare 22 years ago. However, she will never completely heal from her traumatic brain injury. Claire will live the rest of her life with meaningful consequences because of one person’s action.
From the moment of her shaken baby syndrome (SBS) diagnosis, also known as abusive head trauma (AHT), the Fishpaw family embarked on a journey to become a voice for change through public advocacy and education to protect children in the community.
Shaken Baby Syndrome Awareness Month is observed in May, providing Claire’s parents, Jon and Michelle, another opportunity to share their story to help others, just as they have for more than two decades.
“To this day, I sometimes ask myself, ‘How did this ever happen?’” Michelle shares. “I am certain of one thing: I’m a different person than I was before Claire’s injury because I’ve had to be. My life is also enriched by telling our story and meeting many who have provided us with the gift of hope. It’s an offering that we all have a responsibility to give to help others elevate their voice to reach those in need and inspire meaningful change.”
One of the avenues they pursued was legislation, a familiar area for Jon, who serves as chief advocacy and government relations officer for our ministry.
Claire’s Law, named after their daughter, was enacted on Feb. 28, 2008, in the State of Ohio, exactly eight years after her injury. The legislation provides mandatory Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) educational materials be given to parents of newborns. Under this legislation, Ohio also became the first state to begin tracking the number of cases of this preventable form of child abuse.
“We continually seek answers to questions on how this could have ever happened and believe education as provided by Claire’s Law can help to prevent a harrowing event like this from happening to other children,” Michelle says.
For instance, Claire’s sitter raised the need to better manage Claire’s crying on her third day in the sitter’s care. Had the family known at the time that inconsolable crying is a key reason why babies are shaken, they wouldn’t have returned for that fourth day of care.
Claire’s Law was the impetus that eventually gave Michelle the courage to write “Claire’s Voice,” a book she published last November that chronicles their family’s true-life story and is giving others a way to find their voice. Michelle chose not to omit or sugarcoat details.
“Through Claire’s encouragement, I am reminded of her words each day, ‘Mom, this book is going to help so many people. I know it’s taking a lot out of you, but we can never give up.’”
Says her husband, Jon, “I believe our story will have an impact, especially if it prevents one child from being abused or maltreated. ‘Claire’s Voice’ also brings a message of hope and resiliency as we all face unforeseen circumstances throughout life.”
Michelle, a frequent speaker to community groups, is determined that families benefit from her message.
“Whether it’s choosing child care or deciding to use school transportation for the first time, we all take leaps of faith,” she says. “This feeling of uncertainty never goes away for your loved ones, especially our children. I continually impress upon others to trust their intuition, ask questions and be the advocate that a child deserves. A single decision can forever change a life.”
Also, learn about the pediatrics services we offer at Mercy Health.