DALLAS -- Cell phone video is the only way Darlyn Harrell and Adam Bonham can see their son Jacobi now.
"How am I supposed to deal with the fact that I haven't seen him and I can't see him?” Harrell said through tears. “Especially when I know I've done nothing wrong. But yet, they want to sit there and say I'm this horrible person and I hurt my son and I broke my son?"
Harrell and Bonham say they lost custody of Jacobi trying to help him.
"At three weeks, I was going to change his diaper,” Bonham recalled, “and when I unzipped his onesie, I noticed that his arm was swollen."
Bonham took Jacobi to an emergency room in Florida, where the couple lived at the time. At first, doctors found nothing wrong.
When the swelling returned a few days later, during the couple’s move to North Texas, the worried parents took Jacobi to a hospital here.
X-rays at Baylor Garland showed multiple fractures all over his tiny body in various stages of healing. Jacobi was transferred to specialists at Children's Medical Center in Dallas.
Harrell and Bonham said they were immediately under a cloud of suspicion.
Children's doctors suspected "physical abuse" and filed papers to remove Jacobi from the home.
"I immediately broke down right then and there,” Harrell said.
Jacobi was just 42 days old.
Without money to fight the case, they went to Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas.
"Child abuse is the default diagnosis,” said Charsalynn Mitchell, the attorney who took the case. “It was in this case."
Mitchell has compiled stacks of evidence in support of the two parents. She sent Jacobi's X-rays to independent experts, who found "no evidence" of "abusive forces."
Jacobi was diagnosed, instead, with "healing rickets."
"I'm guessing that this is an enormous problem,” said clinical radiologist Dr. David Ayoub, “and the misdiagnosis of this condition is epidemic."
Dr. Ayoub did not review Jacobi's X-rays. But, he estimates he's diagnosed 300-to-400 cases of healing rickets in infants in the last few years.
Rickets is a softening of bones, commonly caused by Vitamin D deficiency. Use of sunscreen, indoor office work, and poor diet has contributed to an increase in Vitamin D deficiency in people of all ages in recent years.
It affects newborns because a pregnant woman passes only a portion of her vitamin levels to her baby. Dr. Ayoub said that if an expectant mother is already Vitamin D deficient, the chances are higher the baby will be, too.
The condition may leave the newborn prone to fractures.
"[I]f you happen to break a bone, take a baby out of the home and it doesn't fracture again,” Ayoub said, “[authorities] say, ‘Well, it must've been abused.’ But that's the natural history of Vitamin D. It hits a low in the first few weeks of life, then rises quickly after that."
Dr. Ayoub said use of antacids in pregnancy can further deplete Vitamin D stores in pregnant women. His just-printed research in the journal Pediatric Imaging points out that broken bones in infants is actually more "typical of bone fragility disorders, including rickets, than reported in prior child abuse."
And British research published this year in the journal Pediatric and Developmental Pathology examined dozens of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) cases. Most had undiagnosed Vitamin D deficiency and showed signs of rickets.
However, because there’s been no major research or recommendations concerning rickets in infants, doctors often don't know about or won't consider it.
Despite that, there are many cases across the country and in North Texas of undiagnosed bone fractures resulting in criminal or child custody cases.
In August, Ralon Meredith of Fort Worth was cleared in a case involving the death of his daughter. The 23-day-old girl had multiple fractures. A jury believed medical evidence that showed she suffered from rickets, in addition to other ailments.
Kenley Huber’s fractured bones also showed signs of healing rickets, according to experts. So did twins Karrington and Kambry Tyson. Their parents were also suspected of child abuse.
Both North Texas cases were featured in a recent News 8 report, which you can find at this link. It took a different diagnosis - that of a connective tissue disorder called Ehler's Danlos Syndrome - to eventually clear the parents in both cases.
News 8 has requested interviews with the doctor in charge of the Referral and Evaluation of Abused Children, or REACH, clinic at Children’s Medical Center. Experts in the REACH clinic diagnosed Karrington, Kambry, Kenley and Jacobi’s injuries as abuse-related.
The interview request has not be granted.
"I hope they hear this story now,” said attorney Charsalynn Mitchell. “I hope that they can take a good look at the things that they are doing, so it won't happen to any more families like this anymore."
In November, Jacobi’s case was presented in the 304th Court, a Family and Juvenile Court in Dallas County. A jury of 12 did not believe the medical explanation of Vitamin D deficient rickets. Darlyn Harrell and Adam Bonham have filed an appeal in the case.
They are heartbroken, but still hope to regain custody of their now 18-month-old son, and heal their fractured family.