The Short of It
Jacksonville, Fla., parents were cleared of child abuse charges after their baby's metabolic bone disorder was discovered and explained her multiple fractures.
In June 2014, Brooke Bornhorst and Will Meade noticed their 7-week old daughter wasn't moving her arm, so they promptly took her to the hospital, where an X-ray revealed a broken humerus. Puzzled, a full body X-ray followed and even more unexplained broken bones were discovered.
The parents—who couldn't provide an explanation—were taken from the hospital in handcuffs and subsequently charged with felony child abuse, while their three children were removed from their home and placed on a fast track to adoption.
"The unexplained fractures are stand-alone evidence of physical abuse," the state Department of Children and Families concluded at the time.
"That's when the world just fell," Bornhorst told First Coast News. "We wanted help. No one helped us. They didn't ask me about my pregnancy. No medical history. Nothing."
So after she bonded out of jail, Bornhorst took matters into her own hands and began digging for answers. An unusual set of labs led her to discover that her baby has a metabolic bone disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and vitamin D deficiency. Symptoms include double-jointedness, easy bruising, and yes, bone fragility. And it turns out, Bornhorst has it, too.
Dr. Michael Holick, a researcher at Boston University Medical Center, director of the Bone Health Care Clinic at Boston Medical Center, and an expert on Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and vitamin D deficiency, testified at Bornhorst and Meade's trials.
"For me, that case was pretty cut and dried," he told First Coast News. "The problem is the radiologists and even these child abuse experts, they do not have the expertise in metabolic bone disease, so they don't appreciate the subtleties—what it can do to the skeleton, or vitamin D deficiency. They just see lots of fractures, and they've been taught lots of fractures is obviously child abuse, end of story."
While the case undoubtedly represents a victory for Bornhorst and Meade, it is not one without cost. The couple's mug shots appeared on local TV and they were raked over the coals on social media, with commenters calling for them to be jailed, tortured and executed.
And even worse, the time they spent away from their three children is time they can never get back. The criminal charges were dropped in a matter of weeks, but it wasn't until this September that full custody of the children was returned to them—without any future supervision by the state.
"We lost 476 days with our babies at home," Brooke said. "It's just a horrible injustice."