Baby's injuries described

A Pretoria mother accused of murdering her baby son sobbed, shook her head and rocked back and forth with her head between her arms on Thursday as a surgeon described her baby’s injuries in court.

Marissa Rudman (36) and her boyfriend Nolan Schoeman (32) were charged with murder and child abuse after their two-month-old son Wade died of head injuries four days after being admitted to the Steve Biko Hospital in Pretoria in April 2009.

He was in a critical condition with convulsions, an eye swollen shut and visible bruises on his head and body when he was admitted, neurosurgeon Dr John Samuels testified in the High Court in Pretoria.

He was told that the parents had noticed blue marks on the baby’s head and thought a spider might have bitten him, but he said it was clear that the baby had suffered blunt trauma to the head and chest.

X-rays revealed that the baby had two broken arms and various broken ribs that were a few weeks old and had already started to heal.

The baby’s lung was bruised, which must have been caused by a direct blow to the chest as babies’ ribs were soft and did not break easily.

The brain was bleeding in several places and there was such massive swelling that moisture was being forced out of the brain. The bones of the skull had pulled apart and parts of the brain had already died.

A membrane under the child’s upper lip was torn, suggesting child abuse or severe facial trauma. He was of the opinion that the head injury was caused by a massive blow to the skull.

Marks around the baby’s face and chest had the form of fingers, which even a layman would have been able to see with the naked eye.

Blood tests revealed underlying infection, shock and tissue damage. The baby was immediately moved to the intensive care unit where a team of neurosurgeons treated him, but his condition steadily deteriorated.

Samuels testified that he phoned hospital security and the police after receiving a phone call from a senior nurse at the intensive care unit who told him baby Wade’s family wanted to discharge him, and that his father had taken control of the unit and was refusing to let anyone get near the baby.

The unit had eight patients in serious conditions at the time. When he arrived at the hospital some time later, Samuels learnt that the police had been there and that the parents had left.

Samuels informed the hospital’s registrar and the child protection unit about the case, because he was concerned about another child in their care, who may not be identified.

He testified that the brain bleeding would have been immediately obvious to a mother, and was already about five to seven days old when the baby was brought to the hospital.

He said the baby would have had a 60 percent chance of survival if his brain injury had been treated surgically within the first four hours of it being sustained, but the chances of mortality rose with every hour and day thereafter.

Samuels said there was no chance that the baby would have been discharged within a day or two. Asked about Rudman’s conduct eight days earlier, when she discharged her baby, against medical advice, from the Pretoria West hospital where he was being treated for pneumonia, Samuels said this was “very dangerous” because babies’ conditions deteriorated quickly.

Rudman’s lawyer put it to Samuels that she become aware of bruises on the baby’s head only the day before she took him to the Steve Biko Hospital. She thought the bruises had been caused by a “struggle” to insert a drip into the baby’s head at the previous hospital.

Rudman and Schoeman have both denied causing the injuries, which resulted in Wade’s death, and have denied that they had abused the baby and the other boy in their care.

A family member testified that Rudman and Schoeman had both used the drug cat (methcathinone), but said he was not aware of Rudman’s contention that she had stopped using it when she fell pregnant with Wade.

He said Schoeman had worked as a personal trainer at a gym, but that Rudman was the main provider and dominant figure in the troubled relationship, which was marked by arguments and physical attacks from both sides.

Schoeman’s lawyer put it to the witness that his client had used drugs in order to cope with Rudman’s attacks.

The trial continues.

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