Living this life

Surrounded with aunt's love, Corey struggles daily in testimony of courage

Photo with no caption
By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

Corey Chandler is an athlete.

He is a fixture at Blount Memorial Hospital Wellness Center. He’s often seen there working out in the pool or hitting the treadmill for "roadwork" with a trainer.

You won’t see Corey on a football or soccer field, but he trains hard none-the-less. He’s a survivor, and he works to do the simple things most take for granted.

Corey is 8 years old and is a Shaken Baby Syndrome survivor. Shaken Baby Syndrome results in severe brain trauma and is caused when a child is so violently shaken that the head is subjected to back and forth motion in one or more directions.
When he was just a month old, Corey’s father shook him to quiet him from crying. Since then, he’s suffered the effects of the disorder. Those effects include cerebral palsy, seizures, reflux, feeding difficulties and global developmental delays.

While his father is serving a 15-year sentence for hurting him, Corey and his aunt Carolyn Stinnett, who is his legal guardian, go about the business of living life, which often involves weekly doctor visits, therapy sessions and a taking myriad of prescriptions. While other children his age are running, playing and talking, Corey communicates with facial expressions, moans and squeezes.

Corey’s disabilities haven’t kept him from meeting others and making friends. The youngster has traveled with his aunt to 31 different states and Canada to accompany her as she talks about Shaken Baby Syndrome. They most recently were guests at a conference in Utah.

A few seconds of rage transformed a healthy baby into a child who faces a lifetime of struggle and work. But in his trouble, Corey also finds triumph -- and love.

Working out
Corey works with pediatric physical therapist Tom Schlitt weekly at the Blount Memorial Wellness Center. Schlitt has worked with Corey for almost three years. "Way back when we first started, we worked on head control in a prone position on his elbows, lifting his head up," Schlitt said.

They had him holding his head up for 30 to 45 seconds and he mastered that, Schlitt said.

"Then we worked on sitting and reaching for things," he said.

Schlitt put Corey into a weight-bearing harness that lifts his weight so that he can practice walking on a treadmill. Schlitt said Corey has come a long way in his progress since he started. When he started, he couldn’t keep his head up. Now he can keep his head up for well over 2 minutes. He also is taking independent steps on the treadmill using a weight-bearing harness.

Schlitt said if there’s anything he wants people to know about Shaken Baby Syndrome, it is that it can be prevented. "If you have children, if they’re crying or whatever, it can grate on your nerves. Count to 10 or 20, back off and walk around, Shaken Baby Syndrome is a (disorder) that can be prevented with thought," he said. "You’re the parent, take a walk around and get your wits about yourself."

In the water
Corey also spends time working out in the pool at the Blount Memorial Wellness Center. "What the pool does is give him a greater sense of freedom, it really helps strengthen his muscles," Carolyn said.

Corey has been doing pool therapy since he was 2 and has been at the Blount Memorial Therapy Center since he was 3. "This is something he can do forever," Carolyn said. "He’s always loved the water."

Family friend Bryan Garner was on hand at the pool to help Corey get into and out of the hydraulic chair that lifts him in and out of the water.

"He’s changed from playing a little to playing a lot," Garner said. "He’s real active and responsive."

Stinnett said that over the years, Corey has learned to make eye contact and interact with others, even though he doesn’t speak. "If you babble, he’ll babble back," she said.

Physical therapist Amy Bashford has worked with Corey for about six months and said he has become more active, especially in kicking with his right leg. "He used to use his left leg and now he’s using both, and he’s standing upright better," she said.

Bashford said that Corey’s personality is very similar to other 8-year-olds. "He’s stubborn and he understands more than he lets on," she said. "He’s a typical 8-year-old personality."

At home
At home in Blount County, Corey has a "jungle room." Stinnett carries Corey to his bedroom, which is filled with stuffed animals.

"Elvis is not the only one with a jungle room," Stinnett said.

As she cradles him in her lap, Stinnett said Corey enjoys getting attention and being held. "You put him in your lap and watch T.V., and he’ll easily stay there for three or four hours," Stinnett said. "He’s a snuggle bug."

Stinnett said Corey’s story began about eight years ago when he was only a month old and his biological father shook him to stop him crying. Statistically, most care-givers who cause a child to suffer from Shaken Baby Syndrome are 24-year-old males, "which is exactly what he was," Stinnett said of Corey’s father.

The incident occurred in Blount County and Corey’s biological mother was Stinnett’s niece. About 12 hours after Corey was shaken, his parents took him to the hospital, first Blount Memorial Hospital and then he was transferred to the University of Tennessee Medical Center. "They diagnosed it almost immediately," Stinnett said. "The retina was detached. That was a dead giveaway. You can fall off the bed and not get that injury."

Corey still can not see well. "He can’t process what he sees," she said. "It’s all the brain damage."

Stinnett had just finished a long period of acting as a primary caregiver to one of her parents who had died shortly before Corey was injured. "For the first time in my life, I was not handling a lot of responsibility. I had many friends who told me I was insane for stepping off a cliff and doing this," she said of accepting responsibility for raising Corey.

Stinnett said she was called to the hospital the day of the incident and told what happened. According to Stinnett, Corey’s father convinced his mother to flee, and they were gone a month before they were captured.

The incident occurred on a Tuesday or Wednesday, Stinnett said. By Friday, Corey was "very, very low" physically. Stinnett and her sister went back to see him as he struggled to live. It was then that Stinnett vowed to help him if he did survive.

Corey was in foster care for 10 months. Then Stinnett and the child’s grandmother shared physical custody before a Blount County judge allowed Stinnett to become legal guardian in November of 2000. Since then, he’s has been through several operations and constant therapy.

Stinnett has seen Corey grow and develop and enjoy life. Even though he can not walk or talk, he does make noises and smile. "He’s happy throughout the day. He does indeed get enjoyment out of life. He’s very easily pleased," Stinnett said. "He doesn’t verbalize, but he smiles and does react."

Stinnett said often it was difficult emotionally to watch as other children his age as they learned to sit, walk and talk. "My child can’t do any of those things," she said. "It’s very hard to deal with that. I see third graders out running and playing and think, ‘That should be Corey.’"

Stinnett said Cory’s father pleaded guilty to aggravated child neglect and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was scheduled to be up for parole this fall, she said.

Corey’s mother in 2002 pleaded guilty to child neglect and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years of probation, Stinnett said.

"Is 15 years enough for taking away a child’s life," Stinnett said. "How do you make up for that? That’s the frustrating part."
Stinnett said as Corey has grown; it has become more difficult to carry him. Stinnett has endured her own physical ailments the past year. "There was a period of six weeks I could not lift him at all," she said.

Stinnett said she’s hopeful they can get nursing assistance through a Medicaid waiver. "I hope we get it. I’ve had serious heart issues, and it makes me realize I need plenty of back-up care (for Corey)," she said.

Stinnett is the family resources director for Knox County Schools. She works out of West View Elementary and works with students in schools throughout Knox County. "My job is to help families get services they need to keep their children in school," she said.

Corey is seen by nine specialists who work with him. He has two medical appointments and five therapy appointments a week and a home-bound teacher, Jan Bemis. "She is wonderful and cares passionately about him," Stinnett said.

The appointments aren’t the only necessary steps taken to help Corey. He also must take 10 different medications multiple times daily and can only eat baby formula, Stinnett said.

"He’s fed with a dropper. It’s time-consuming, but it works well. He’s packed on the pounds," she said.

Often Stinnett will speak to young people about Shaken Baby Syndrome. "I’ve told them, ‘If you have a child, he or she is going to cry. If you get very, very frustrated, and you’ve checked everything, put the baby down. Call for help from a person who can sit with you," she said.

Stinnett said her whole point in speaking at conferences is to educate. "I would not wish this on another child anywhere," she said.

According to Stinnett, if there’s anything Corey has in abundance, "it is love," she said. "He feels it from the time he wakes up to the time he goes to bed. I am thankful for everyday I get to spend with him."

Stinnett said something all who hear Corey’s story to know how quickly a child can be injured when they’re shaken.

"Things can happen so easily," she said. "It happens in a matter of seconds, and the damage is permanent."

For more information about Shaken Baby Syndrome or to contact Stinnett, call 865-594-1192.

© 2006 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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