At 3 and a half, Chandler Crady is a boisterous, bright little boy who brings laughter and joy to his parents and little sister. But there was a time in the not-so-distant past when his family was in danger of being ripped apart.
Chandler was born premature with a host of health problems, including a hole in his lung. He spent the first week of his life at the hospital. After he was released, his parents, Tara and Michael Crady, said they noticed one of his ankles felt strange, and brought it up to their pediatrician.
“The next morning we got a phone call saying, ‘You know, were you in a car accident? Was there some sort of trauma during pregnancy?’ And I said, ‘No. I said why?’ They said, ‘Well, it’s a healed fracture and it would date back to in utero,” Tara explained.
From there it was back to OSF St. Francis Medical Center for more testing. But, what was supposed to be a routine follow up X-ray quickly escalated as the Cradys were told Chandler had 14 healed fractures, including 12 along his ribs.
“So they said, ‘We called DCFS, and either this is an injury or it’s a medical issue,'” Tara recalled.
Michael and Tara said they understood the hospital had a legal obligation to investigate, but were nonetheless shocked to find themselves accused.
“You’re hoping, praying that there is something wrong medically with your child. It’s such a backwards feeling because you’re sitting in the hospital and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, they think we abused our child, please let this test come back positive,'” Michael explained.
The Cradys say they were forced to stay at OSF under constant supervision for the next week while DCFS called in a Child Abuse Pediatrician, Dr. Channing Petrak, the Medical Director of the Pediatric Resource Center.
In her report provided by the family, Dr. Petrak ruled the fractures and other injuries were “suspicious of abuse.”
“I was literally smelling him because I wasn’t sure that we were going to get him back,” Tara remembered with tears in her eyes, adding, “I specifically asked the DCFS worker, ‘Are you going to take him?’ And she said ‘That remains to be seen.'”
That’s when Tara remembered the story of another mom featured in the Pekin Daily Times years ago who said she’d been falsely accused of child abuse by the same doctor, and reached out to her on Facebook.
“While we were in the hospital I contacted Michelle Weidner and she got me in contact with this radiologist out of Springfield and by the grace of God he met us at like 6:30 that night at the hospital.”
That doctor was David Ayoub, M.D., a radiologist who specializes in these types of cases.
“There’s no question in my mind that they were abnormal bones, bones that showed fragility,” Ayoub declared.
From Chandler’s X-rays and interviews with the family, Dr. Ayoub determined Chandler had metabolic bone disease, possibly infantile rickets, and said the healed fractures that appeared on the x-rays dated back to in utero and/or the birthing process.
“In utero fractures I’ve seen reported. They’re not unheard of, but they are exceptionally rare.” Ayoub began. “Now, Chandler had x-rays at birth which is a little bit unusual. Why? Because he had a long injury at birth, which is one of the first clues that his ribs might’ve been injured at birth. If the ribs are weak at birth and the child passes through the birth canal what happens is those ribs don’t hold up so they are pushed into the one tissue with much greater force than they would otherwise,” Ayoub further explained, demonstrating the squeezing motion with both hands.
Dr. Ayoub said that would account for the punctured lung Chandler was born with. He also said that while Dr. Petrak’s report might have stated they ruled out rickets or metabolic bone disease, that was because the tests they conducted in the hospital, measuring the boy’s Vitamin D levels (an indicator in those cases,) were done at the time the injuries were discovered, not when the injuries would have occurred, adding that Vitamin D levels could change drastically for a developing child in that time.
“In infancy, it’s not like any other time in life. The vitamin D levels change and change dramatically within the first three months of life. The baby will be born with typically 60% to 70% of the mother’s levels and will double very quickly, in fact by 2 to 3 months those levels double,” Ayoub shared.
With that theory in mind, Ayoub said Tara’s levels of Vitamin D were measured and found to be 21.8, emaning Chandler’s on average would have been around 14, which was considered low. Ayoub noted this and other findings that he felt explained the injuries discovered in a report the family sent to a judge before their first Shelter Care Hearing.
Including Ayoub, the Cradys ending up seeking out a total of 8 medical expert from all over the country, all specializing in unique cases like there. Among the group of Ivy League, board Certified specialists, was a Boston University Endocrinologist, Dr. Michael Holick. Holick not only agreed with Ayoub’s findings, he also testified in a report submitted to the court that Chandler likely had a collagen disorder called Ehlers-danlos syndrome. Holick said that would be enough to “markedly increase the risk for fragility fractures with normal handling.”
However, these are emerging theories that Ayoub admits are not widely accepted in the medical community.
We tried to talk to Dr. Petrak, but her employer, the University of Illinois College of Medicine of Peoria told us “Because of patient confidentiality (they) cannot comment on or provide patient information.”
However, they did connect us with another Child Abuse Pediatrician out of Minnesota who was not affiliated with the Crady case, but disagrees with Holick’s and Ayoub’s theories in cases like these.
“To suggest that we have bones so weak that they fracture with routine care as the result of rickets with no other signs is not a logical Solution,” shared Child Abuse Pediatrician Mark Hudson, M.D., again not commenting on the Crady case just speaking to the theory in general.
“There’s certainly a small group of physicians that are often involved in the legal proceedings providing testimony primarily in court,” Hudson further explained. “They often have a wide variety of alternate theories that they will cite. They will also attempt to sort of paint a picture that there is significant debate or controversy within the field of medicine, in general, when in reality most of the theories that are proposed are not widely accepted.”
However, the specialists the Cradys consulted stood by their theories, pointing to years of research and discovery in their particular subspecialties. That included a Neurosurgeon from the University of Chicago who noted signs of old blood on the brain described in Petrak’s report as “head injuries” could have “certainly been caused by the trauma of birth.” after concluding Chandler was born with a condition called external hydrocephalus that left fluid between his skull and brain.
Medical disputes aside, the Cradys said they tried to point to their good character, noting the frequency with which they’d been taking Chandler to the doctor for even the slightest ailment ever since his birth, and the amount of time they’d spent in the hospital immediately after he was delivered, supervised by medical staff, when some of these injuries would have likely occurred according to their medical experts. They also pointed to what they described as their “squeaky clean” pasts, with no more than a speeding ticket between the two of them. Tara was a social worker who’d actually worked for the Child Advocacy Center and the Center for Prevention of Abuse. Michael was a former soccer coach for Eureka College, and an electrician. But, despite their protests and the character witnesses they said came forward, they remained under suspicion. So, because of Tara’s familiarity with the process from her work in the field, she says they voluntarily initiated their own safety plan, staying with her brother, a local police officer and his family, so they were never alone with Chandler.
But, during that time, Tara says they had a check up with Chandler, and the pediatrician noted a small red spot. The Cradys say this was the same type of spot they’d been bringing to the attention of doctors since Chandler was born, likening them to the marks that would be left by the seam of clothing on a child. The family says all along doctors had ruled them out as bruises and assured them it was nothing to worry about, but in this case the appearance of one while they were under investigation was enough to prompt another report to the DCFS Hotline.
That’s when Tara and Michael say DCFS came knocking on their door in the middle of the night. And when they didn’t find them there, the Cradys say investigators then called her brother.
“They called my brother and said, ‘Where’s Chandler? We’re looking for him because there’s been a second hotline call, we need to know he’s okay.’ And he said, ‘I can assure you he’s fine, I’m looking at him,'” Tara recalls.
Tara says their doctors later linked those spots to Chandler’s collagen disorder. However, at the time, they were ordered to move in with her parents, and could no longer be alone with their young son.
“We feel like time was stolen. You know, those beautiful first everythings, we really weren’t able to enjoy,” she laments.
Still, the family continued to be proactive. They spent $25,000 on six different attorneys, including Tim McCarthy of Peoria, who said he was quickly convinced of the family’s innocence.
“Once I met them and I started seeing the evidence I thought, ‘No, these people are not capable of abusing their child, they didn’t do this. We need to get this resolved as quickly as we can,” McCarthy emphatically shares.
McCarthy says the Cradys voluntarily took a polygraph test and passed, using the same administrator Peoria County Jerry Brady had previously used in private practice, but it still didn’t change the status of their case.
That’s when Michael says he considered more drastic measures.
“I remember having a discussion with Tara telling her, ‘There’s too much against us.’ I told her ‘I’m just going to tell them I did it, I’ll take the blame you can take care of the kids,'” Michael recalled with tears in his eyes, pausing to wipe them away before apologizing, “I’m sorry. It’s, I was close. She talked me out of it.”
Finally, they said they got a break in the form of a technicality, when an attorney discovered that the initial judge to sign off at a preliminary hearing for Shelter Care actually ruled the state didn’t show there was probable cause of abuse, a details the Cradys and their attorneys had somehow previously overlooked in court paperwork. McCarthy says that’s partly because it’s so rare for a Judge to deny Shelter Care in these cases, so they assumed he signed off on it. But, because he didn’t?
“Te law dictates that the case has to be dismissed,” McCarthy explains. And, so it was, ten months after the allegations were first made against the Cradys. But the couple says that wasn’t the end, claiming DCFS kept the case open for a total of 693 days. Ultimately, they claim it was involvement from the Attorney General’s office that closed their case once and for all.
We tried reaching out to Peoria County States Attorney Jerry Brady multiple times for comment and clarification on the case, but he told us he couldn’t comment due to the fact the case was in Juvenile Court, and would only tell us it involved a “procedural issue.”
A representative from DCFS who declined to go on camera told us over the phone it was a “difficult case” that was “well-argued on both sides,” adding that as social workers it’s their job to protect children, and they are often presented with conflicting information.
As for the Cradys, they describe Chandler now as perfect, adding that life is mostly back to normal these days
“I guess if there’s a blessing in all this, it’s that he has no idea that any of this happened.”
But, their not the first Central Illinois family to claim they were wrongfully accused. There have been similar headlines in the news in recent years, from a Springfield Father who did 2 and a half years in jail before he was found not guilty of abusing his daughter, to the Peoria mother who first helped the Cradys.
Michelle Weidner says her youngest son was just 5 weeks old, in the ICU at the Children’s Hospital fighting for his life due to a then-undiagnosed genetic condition, when she and her family found themselves accused.
“When they did the CT scan he moved in the machine which resulted in a blurred line and that blurred line was misdiagnosed as a skull fracture,” Michelle explains. More on her story and how she and the Cradys are trying to help others through a newly formed non-profit the Family Justice Resource Center on Wednesday night on 25 News at 10.