It's Saturday morning in babysitting class at All Children's Hospital, and Iris Merryweather asks students why they think an infant might cry. As the kids call out reasons — it's hungry, uncomfortable and so on — fellow teacher Karen Jackson walks around with a crying doll wrapped in a blanket.
"I changed your diaper, I gave you a bottle,'' Jackson tells the doll. "Why are you crying? I don't understand.'' The agitation builds in her voice. Suddenly, she snaps.
"Stop crying!'' she shouts, violently shaking the bundle.
The students — 11- to 14-year-olds — look stunned. The blanket comes off to reveal red lights flashing around the infant brain, viewed through the doll's transparent head. The lights pinpoint the damage that three seconds of anger can do.
In the eight months that the teachers have been using the Shaken Baby Syndrome Simulator, this has become the most dramatic moment of the class.
"I stopped him from crying,'' Jackson tells the onlookers, "but what did I do?''
She points to the lights at the back of the brain. "I just made this baby blind in both eyes.'' She shows the hands and feet symbols on each side. "I just paralyzed this baby.'' Then the blinking light on the left front. "Memory. Now this baby doesn't remember his mom, his dad, his babysitter.'' And the right front. "This baby no longer feels emotions — happiness, sadness, joy.''
"Babies are so cute,'' says student Emily Tharp, 13, whose jaw dropped as she watched the demonstration. "Why would anyone even consider that?''
Tess Madden, 12, thinks everyone who handles a baby should see it. "I never knew that three seconds of shaking a baby could do so much to them.''
Made by Realityworks Inc. of Eau Claire, Wis., the Shaken Baby Syndrome Simulator, which costs almost $700, was introduced to the market in 2007. It was donated last year to All Children's by St. Petersburg businessman James L. Buck.
Buck, whose four daughters took the babysitting class, became active in child abuse prevention a decade ago after hearing a speech by Janet Goree, a Clearwater woman whose personal tragedy led her to become a national leader in the crusade to stop shaken baby syndrome. Buck saw Goree demonstrate the simulator last year at a meeting of the downtown St. Petersburg Exchange Club.
"I thought it would be great for the folks at All Children's to have that for their class,'' he says.
He hopes the kids will tell their friends, girls and especially boys. Goree says that 70 percent of time, it's the husband or mother's boyfriend who shakes the baby.
Goree took up the campaign nearly 16 years ago after her infant granddaughter was critically injured when her father shook her at her home in Virginia. Twenty-five percent of shaken babies die. Little Kimberlin West died in a Clearwater hospice at age 3. Her mother, Goree's daughter Nicole, divorced her husband soon after the shaking incident.
Goree's crusade moved the Florida Legislature to pass the Kimberlin West law, which requires that hospitals expose new parents to the dangers of shaking a baby. Through her Pinellas Park-based nonprofit, Help A Child Inc., Goree traveled around Florida to lecture on the problem. But the funding ran out last month.
Though the law requires that hospitals give new parents a brochure on shaken baby syndrome, Goree laments that it doesn't make the impression that a demonstration does, especially the Shaken Baby Syndrome Simulator.
"It's a very effective learning tool,'' says Goree, who uses it in her demonstrations to law enforcement, medical personnel, parents and caregivers.
The simulator shows law enforcement officers that it takes will and a degree of upper body strength to shake and injure a baby, she says.
"This isn't an 'Oops!' ''
In the babysitting class, Merryweather tells students that if they feel their anger rising when caring for a crying baby, they should put the child in a crib or bassinet, or even on the floor, if necessary, and walk away from it. If they've tried everything they can think of to comfort the child and it continues to cry for 20 minutes, they need to call the parents and tell them to come home.
Babies don't die from crying, she assures them.
"They die because someone lost control.''
Philip Morgan is a St. Petersburg writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.