On August 3, 1994, Pamela Jacobazzi began caring for a new client, 10-month old Matthew Czapski. Unfortunately, Pamela did not require a medical exam prior to caring for new clients. Unbeknownst to Pamela, Matthew suffered from numerous medical conditions. These conditions included sickle cell trait, abnormal hemoglobin levels, and an ongoing struggle with infection, fever, anemia and dehydration. On top of all that, Matthew's head size suggested that he suffered from external hydrocephalus.
On August 8, 1994, Matthew fell forward from a sitting position and struck his head on a tile floor while in Jacobazzi's care. Jacobazzi soothed the child's pain with some ice. Matthew appeared fine after the incident; however, this short-fall incident was far from over.
On August 11, 1994, Matthew's mother, Cynthia Czapski, picked him up from Jacobazzi's daycare. At the time, Matthew appeared to be sleeping. On the ride home Cynthia found Matthew to be unresponsive. She rushed him to St. Joseph's Hospital in Elgin, Illinois and they had him airlifted to Lutheran General Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to relieve swelling and bleeding on his brain. Matthew would remain virtually comatose until his death 16 months later.
Jacobazzi became the main suspect in Matthew's death. Matthew's injuries, which included a subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhaging, and brain swelling, were considered consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). At the time, SBS was considered sound science and was accepted in the medical community.
Recently however, SBS has become a controversial diagnosis. Changes in medicine now challenge the assumption that the trio of injuries (subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhaging, and brain swelling) can only be the result of a violent shaking or a fall from a three story building. In fact, medical literature now suggests that pre-existing medical conditions such as subdural bleeding, cerebral artery aneurysms, vascular malformations, meningitis, and coagulation and hematologic disorders such as leukemia, sickle cell anemia, disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), hemophilia, von Willebrand's disease and idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), in conjunction with a short fall or other minor head trauma, can produce the symptoms previously associated with Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Armed with this new information, The Illinois Innocence Project has begun to reinvestigate Jacobazzi's case. The Project is working with students from the University of Illinois College of Law and Jacobazzi's attorney, Anthony Sassan, to prove that Matthew's injuries were not the result of a violent shaking, but, instead were the result of Matthew's short fall, coupled with his naturally occurring diseases.
Recently, Northwestern University's Medill Innocence Project has published an investigation of the case in partnership with a team of investagative journalism students. You can read Pamela's story, view a photo gallery, review documents relevant to the case.