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Probable cause found in infant abuse case of former Meriter Hospital nurse

MADISON (WKOW) — During a preliminary hearing Wednesday, a Meriter doctor described injuries to infants that led to charges against 43-year-old Christopher Kaphaem.

Judge Stephen Ehlke found there was probable cause, and bound Kaphaem over for further proceedings.

In February, Kaphaem was suspended from Meriter when authorities first suspected his involvement with patient injuries.  Kaphaem’s state nursing license was also suspended indefinitely.

On Wednesday, Dr. Barbara Knox, a child abuse pediatrician, described the injuries she examined on one of the babies.

“Bilateral forearm bruising and bilateral hand bruising,” said Knox.

As reported earlier on WKOW, a criminal complaint describes a variety of injuries to infants in Meriter’s NICU between March 2017 and February, including a child identified as Infant 1.  “Fracture to his skull, a wrist fracture, and a left humerus fracture,” the complaint against Kaphaem states.

“A few days later, [doctors were] concerned about soft tissue swelling on the back of the head,” said Knox.

An alarmed doctor at Meriter hospital called Doctor Knox in February after noticing a baby had abnormal injuries.

“His question to me was, should I be working this child up for suspected, accidental trauma, at which point I said, absolutely,” said Knox.

The complaint describes other injuries to babies to include significant swelling to limbs and wounds from the improper introduction of IVs.

The baby Knox examined suffered 17 fractures, including one to the skull and eight to his ribs.

“[The rib injuries] are indicative of someone performing forces to that child. Typically, squeeze-type forces that are in way excess of any normal care,” added Knox.

“He also had a skull fracture which definitely did not occur from birth because there was the overlying soft tissue swelling. This would have been something that would have occurred from either a direct blow to the child, so something striking his head or his head being struck into something,” Knox explained.

The complaint states veteran nurse Karin Smylie observed one child who had been cared for during certain hours by Kaphaem to have bruises to the palm of the hand.

“Never in my 32 years working in NICU have I ever seen anything like that,” the complaint quotes Smylie.

In the complaint, nurses state Kaphaem at one time cared for an infant with dim light and the room door closed, and would often shun offers of help for care tasks requiring two people.

Kaphaem has been a nurse at Meriter for fourteen years.  He previously worked at UW Hospital.  A source with knowledge of his employment says he was fired.

Federal officials cited Meriter Hospital for inadequately responding to the patient injuries, with an “immediate jeopardy violation” of one of the sanctions.

Officials say Meriter satisfactorily corrected procedures and policies involved in the citations.

A Meriter spokesperson says 24/7 video monitoring has been added to the NICU and patient trends are more closely tracked by new tools.

The case will now proceed to trial. No date has been set for when Kaphaem’s trial will start.

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