Diana Fowler and her son, Carter, attend Gov. Mike Beebe’s signing of Carter’s Law at the state Capitol on Friday April 19, 2013. The law is meant to encourage awareness and education about shaken baby syndrome. PHOTO: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Northwest Edition)
April 23, 2013 | Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Northwest Edition) | CYD KING
Shaken Baby Law Named for Victim
Carter Fowler was a defenseless 8-week-old in 2009 when he was severely injured by his biological father.
The dad, now serving a 32-year prison term at a lockup in Newport, shook Carter, then threw him up against something hard, causing the baby to suffer a broken clavicle and shaken baby syndrome. The baby then suffered again, at the hands of an abusive foster family.
Diana and Cliff Fowler of Springdale were Carter’s salvation.
The Fowlers became Carter’s foster family when he was 14 months old and adopted him, now 3, on March 12. With their diligence and help from the state Legislature, Carter now has a law named for him that will educate new parents on how fragile their newborns are and the permanent damage shaking can do.
Carter has several debilitating ailments including blindness, seizures and cerebral palsy and is at high risk for choking. He takes his meals through a gastric feeding tube and can’t sit up or even hold his head up on his own.
“No child should ever have to suffer like Carter,” said Diana Fowler, a school nurse in Springdale.
Carter’s Law, co- sponsored by state Rep. Kim Hammer of Benton and state Sen. Jon Woods of Springdale, was signed into law last week. The state Department of Health has one year to create brochures and other literature about shaken baby syndrome that will be distributed in more than 100 hospital maternity wards, birthing centers and child-care centers across the state. The Health Department will make information on the syndrome available on its website.
The law also changes the way possible cases of shaken baby syndrome are reported. They will now be documented in the state Department of Human Services’ annual Arkansas Child Welfare Report Card.
The project is expected to cost about $60,000, Woods said.
The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, dontshake.org, and information from the Mayo Clinic website says it takes less than 10 seconds of shaking a baby for permanent, severe injury: half of shaken babies do not survive their injures; the syndrome is the leading cause of child-abuse deaths in the United States; newborn babies to 4 months are at greatest risk of injury from shaking but it can happen up to age 4.
Fowler credited her brother and his wife, Larry and Danielle Hoeme of Little Rock, for having the vision for the legislation. Larry Hoeme described Carter as a “handsome, happy child.”
“What happened to him is just so senseless, so preventable,” he said. “It’s just weighed so heavy on my heart.”
With help from Doug Matayo, a former legislator who is now chief deputy for Secretary of State Mark Martin, connections were made and the bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Hammer. Fowler said Carter’s Law was written with Claire’s Law in mind. Claire’s Law is named for a shaken baby syndrome victim in Ohio.
Woods, who is engaged but has no children, admitted he had an emotional meltdown in the governor’s office as he stood near Carter as the bill was signed. It was the first time he’d met the little boy.
“In my seven years as an elected official, I’ve never cried regarding politics or anything related to the job,” Woods said. “But we had to stop the bill-signing so I could walk off to collect myself. It touched me that much.”
However, Carter laughed the whole time, Woods said.
“I know that deep-down he understands that he’s part of something special,” Diana Fowler said. “He smiles a lot when we’re talking about it around him. He just knows how proud we are.”
Added Woods: “It was very touching, very sad, but I made a new friend.”
The Fowlers have three other children: 26-year-old Brady, 23- year- old Megan and 21-year-old Lauren. In addition, they adopted Artie, 11, in 2008. He suffers from developmental delays caused by his premature birth.
Diane Fowler said she loves all her children the same, but she bonded with Carter their first week.
“I had maternal feelings for Carter immediately,” she said. “I love all the kids I have fostered, but it’s a different feeling when you truly have that mother-child bond.
“I feel I am truly Carter’s mother in every sense of the word,” she said.
It’s her wish that all new parents be required to watch a video on shaken baby syndrome before leaving the hospital, much like the required viewing for how to use a car seat.
“We just have to go a step at a time,” she said. “Maybe next year.”