True Story: Accused of Child Abuse

Doctors said we'd abused our baby. Who would believe us?
 

Accused of Child Abuse

The pediatrics clinic at the hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, was jammed. Alice Velasquez, dressed in Army fatigues, passed four-month-old Liliana to her husband, Miguel, so she could stretch and check the clock. They had been in a waiting room at National Naval Medical Center for over an hour and a half. Now, Alice was late for duty at the Pentagon.

"Don't worry, honey, it won't be much longer," Miguel told Alice. Then he kissed Liliana, and she began to coo.

A few days before, Alice had found two little bumps over Liliana's left ribs. They felt bony, and bone problems ran in Alice's family. The couple decided to ask the doctor to do x-rays during the "well baby" visit.

Husband and wife were a study in contrasts: Alice, blonde, outgoing, excitable; Miguel, olive-skinned, quiet, placid. He kept her calm until their turn finally came. Alice took Liliana. Miguel grabbed the baby's diaper bag and toys, and they went into the exam room. It was the last moment of ordinary family routine they would have for the next five years.

"Healthy, four-month-old female, normal growth and development, gaining appropriately but on the smallish side," say the notes of the intern who first examined Liliana on that day, February 3, 2000. The intern dismissed their fears about the bumps, but Alice persisted. A pediatrician, Dr. Paul Reed, agreed to order x-rays.

"I knew as soon as I saw Dr. Reed's face that something was terribly wrong," Alice says. The x-rays showed that several of Liliana's ribs were broken. "These injuries are nonaccidental," Dr. Reed told them. Someone has squeezed your baby, probably to make her stop crying, Alice recalls him saying. The doctors did more tests to check for other injuries. Alice began sobbing loudly.

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