Family honors 6-month-old daughter’s memory, promotes education

Mayo Clinic reports fewer than 200,000 cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome nationwide each year

Finley Rae Olson was just six months old when she died this past January of shaken baby syndrome, the result of being shaken abruptly causing trauma to the brain and bleeding into brain tissue.

Now Finley’s family is trying to honor her memory by hopefully preventing this from happening to someone else’s child.

Rachel Olson will never forget the phone call she received saying her daughter Finley was being transported to the hospital from day care.

A happy, healthy baby, only a few days removed from her six-month checkup, it was hard to imagine why she needed to be rushed to the hospital.

“She had suffered a fractured skull,” Olson said.

Finley allegedly suffered the fatal injury when she was severely shaken by her babysitter, 30-year-old Carrie Heller.

“Once I walked in that room and saw her laying, this little tiny baby on this giant bed hooked up to all these machines and monitors and wires, the reality of that hits you. I knew then that she wasn’t coming home. I just knew it,” Olson said.

Finley died two days later.

In the four months since her death, Olson and her sister Amanda DeNault, a nurse educator at Gundersen Health System, have made it their mission to educate people about the dangers of shaking a child. Because what they have found is a surprising lack of education.

“So I pulled a bunch of articles and looked at everything from why it happens to who the perpetrators mainly are to what programs there are in other cities and states across the U.S. and then what’s done here,” DeNault said.

Medical experts say shaken baby syndrome usually occurs when a parent or caregiver loses their temper with a crying baby. But shaking a child is not the way to get them to stop.

“If you’ve done everything that you can, you’ve fed them, you’ve changed them, they’re comfortable in their clothing, they’re safe in their crib or wherever, then it’s OK to walk away. You don’t always have to fix it,” DeNault said.

Olson and DeNault are working to try to get more information available to parents at the hospital, in hopes that they can educate and hopefully prevent another family from going through what they are.

“Losing a child in that way, it literally rips your soul apart,” Olson said.

One of the things Olson hopes parents take away from her story is to not stay silent. She said if someone sees signs of abuse or something that just doesn’t seem right, she encourages everyone to speak up and ask questions. She said she found after her daughter’s death other families had issues at that day care, but had never said anything.

Heller is charged with first-degree reckless homicide. She has pleaded not guilty and will go on trial in Milwaukee County in September.

The Mayo Clinic lists shaken baby syndrome as rare, reporting there are fewer than 200,000 cases per year. But a Milwaukee mother, with a local connection, is trying to spread the message about it risks.