In February 2015, Rebecca Wanosik took her then nine-week-old daughter Zeydn to the pediatrician. She was looking for answers for Zeydn’s seemingly inexplicable right arm pain. Instead, that one visit would end up turning her life upside down.
Immediately, Wanosik’s doctor accused her of child abuse and called Child Protective Services — without asking any questions or doing any further investigation. An X-ray later revealed that Zeydn not only had a fractured right arm, but three rib fractures as well. On the following night of February 24, 2015, all five of Wanosik’s children were removed from their home and placed into protective custody.
But Wanosik was not a child abuser.
Her daughter actually suffered from a rare genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome Type 3, a connective tissue disorder that causes fragility fractures, as well as rickets caused from a severe Vitamin D deficiency. Zeydn’s Vitamin D levels were so low that her bones were breaking from the smallest of movements.
While in foster care, Zeydn sustained another fracture. Instead of considering that there could be a medical reason for the fractures, CPS accused Wanosik and her husband of deliberately hurting their baby in an attempt to prove their innocence. During the time that their children were away from them, the Wanosiks researched possible explanations for their baby’s fractures and pleaded with the courts to allow her to be tested.
It took nine long months before their family was reunited and their case was eventually dropped, because there was no evidence that any abuse had occurred. However, the damage of being ripped from their parents took a toll on the entire family.
“We have spent every single day of the last two years trying to make up for lost time with all five of our children that were harmed by a system that is supposed to protect [them],” Wanosik says.
After their ordeal was finally over, Wanosik looked for a way to raise awareness about her daughter’s condition as well as educate others on the importance of Vitamin D. (Vitamin D is not produced in a mother’s breastmilk, so it’s especially important for breastfed babies to take a Vitamin D supplement as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.)
As her story gained attention, she was introduced to Bria Huber, Rana Tyson and Cynthia Ross, founders of Fractured Families, an organization created to protect and advocate for families falsely accused of child abuse due to unexplained fractures in infants.
The Fractured Families website lists the stories of five different families, Wanosik’s included. One of the stories is from Bria Huber, who rushed her three-month-old daughter Kenley to the emergency room after her hip popped during a routine diaper change. An X-ray revealed multiple fractures and Bria’s husband Andrew was immediately charged with felony child abuse and issued a restraining order. It took 15 months before Bria was able to clear her husband’s name, reunite their family, and get a medical diagnosis for the fractures. As it turned out, Kenley was also suffering from a combination of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and an in-utero Vitamin D deficiency.
Today, Fractured Families continues to fight for families who are being wrongfully accused of child abuse and is working on passing laws in Missouri that will ensure that infant fractures are evaluated by a team of experts familiar with rare conditions that can cause weakened bones.
Wanosik notes that although hospitals are supposed to follow a set standard of care and rule out anything and everything medically feasible before assuming a child is being abused, staff and doctors may not be educated on all of the conditions that can cause fractures. For example, she explains that conditions such as osteogenesis imperfecta, rickets, birth injuries, menkes, EDS, or hyperparathyroidism can all lead to fractures. And of course, no hospital staff member wants to make a mistake that could lead to leaving a child in a dangerous situation, either.
“There are so many things, which is why a thorough differential diagnosis is vital to determine the actual cause,” she adds.
She also explains that this is a difficult matter to shed light on because families that go through this are often embarrassed to talk about the fact that they were accused of abuse. Others just want to put the experience behind them and some have been coerced into remaining silent or falsely admitting guilt just to get their children out of the system.
The mother of six (her youngest child was born after the incident) is now a strong advocate for families like hers and encourages all parents to get educated on forced separation. “If you know someone whose infant was removed due to unexplained fractures, tell them they aren’t alone,” she says. “Know your rights.”