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Delayed Sudden Death in an Infant Following an Accidental Fall: A Case Report With Review of the Literature

Denton, Scott MD; Mileusnic, Darinka MD, PhD

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: December 2003 - Volume 24 - Issue 4 - p 371
doi: 10.1097/01.paf.0000097851.18478.16
Case Reports

Several controversies exist regarding ultimately lethal head injuries in small children. Death from short falls, timing of head injury, lucid intervals, presence of diffuse axonal injury (DAI), and subdural hematoma (SDH) as marker of DAI are the most recent controversial topics of debate in this evolving field of study. In this area of debate, we present a case of delayed death from a witnessed fall backwards off a bed in a 9-month-old black male child who struck his head on a concrete floor and was independently witnessed as “healthy” postfall for 72 hours until he was discovered dead in bed. Grandmother, babysitter, and mother all independently corroborated under police investigation that the child “acted and behaved normally” after the fall until death. Autopsy showed a linear nondisplaced parietal skull fracture, diastasis of adjacent occipital suture, subgaleal hemorrhage with evidence of aging, small posterior clotting SDH, marked cerebral edema, and a small tear of the midsuperior body of the corpus callosum consistent with focal axonal injury (FAI). No DAI was seen, and there were no retinal hemorrhages. All other causes of death were excluded upon thorough police and medical examiner investigation. Although this seems to be a rare phenomenon, a delayed, seemingly symptom-free interval can occur between a clinically apparent mild head injury and accidental death in a young child.

From the Cook County Office of the Medical Examiner, and Department of Pathology, Rush College of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois (J.S.D.), and Knox County Office of the Medical Examiner, and Department of Pathology, Graduate School of Medicine, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee (D.M.).

Manuscript received March 19, 2003; accepted May 29, 2003.

Reprints: Darinka Mileusnic, MD, PhD, Regional Forensic Center, University of Tennessee Memorial Hospital, 1924 Alcoa Highway, Knoxville, TN 37920. E-mail: dmileusn@mc.utmck.edu

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.