Two Maine parents are fighting to prove their young son suffers from a rare medical condition that could explain his multiple fractures and help clear his father of child abuse charges.
Prosecutors have accused Brandon Ross, 25, of injuring his son, Ryder, when the boy was just 2 months old. Ross was indicted in June 2014 on 12 counts of child abuse, and is awaiting trial. If convicted, he could face years in prison.
Ross has denied ever harming Ryder. He and his wife, Cynthia Ross, Ryder’s mother, have set out to clear his name. They said their son was diagnosed with a rare syndrome called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), which can cause extreme elasticity of the skin and flexible joints that are unstable and prone to dislocation.
“This is my new job. My new job is to re-unite my family,” Cynthia Ross, 24, told ABC News’ “20/20.”
Ryder, now 1, and their daughter, Rozalynn, now 3, were taken from the couple and placed with Cynthia Ross' father, a registered foster parent. Brandon Ross is only allowed to see the children twice a week with state supervision. Although she's never been charged, Cynthia Ross is not allowed to be alone with her kids and visits them with her mother.
It all started in 2014, just two months after Ryder was born, when Brandon and Cynthia were giving him and Rozalynn baths.
“I pulled Ryder out of the bath, and I was putting his lotion on and I noticed that there was a difference between his legs,” Cynthia Ross recalled. “I showed them to Brandon and he was like, ‘One of his legs is swollen.’”
They brought Ryder to the doctor, who took X-rays and saw something disturbing.
“The doctor said, ‘I've been standing outside the door not wanting to tell you guys this, but there is a fracture in Ryder’s leg. We’re sending you to Maine Medical Center to be evaluated for child abuse,’” said Cynthia Ross.
X-rays revealed he had fractures in his right clavicle, a probable fracture in his left clavicle, probable fractures in his ribs, a fracture in each ankle, and a lumbar compression fracture in his spine, Cynthia Ross said.
“I was dumbfounded,” Brandon Ross told “20/20.” “I mean, we were so delicate with him. We already have a 3-year-old, so we know how to handle babies.”
Ryder stayed in the hospital for six days, and the Rosses said suspicion quickly mounted against them. The doctor’s report noted that the fractures were “caused by ... squeezing or possibly shaking” and that Ryder had been injured by an adult on “more than one occasion while in the care of both parents,” according to the doctor report Cythnia Ross gave to ABC News.
“We were under a microscope, and then we realized that they were no longer looking for a medical explanation when the case worker showed up to the hospital and said, ‘We’re seeking custody of your kids,’” Cynthia Ross said.
Though Brandon Ross said he was never told why, police zeroed in on him, and he was arrested. Not believing her husband could have abused their children, Cynthia Ross set out to see if something else could have caused her baby's fractures.
“He couldn't fight for himself, and I knew I needed to step up and be his voice and figure out what actually happened,” Cynthia Ross said.
While searching for answers, Cynthia Ross' grandmother saw Texas parents Bria and Andrew Huber on Katie Couric's daytime TV show talking about their infant daughter, who they said also suffered unexplained fractures, so Cynthia Ross reached out to them.
The Hubers' story sounded surprisingly similar to the Rosses'. Bria and Andrew Huber told “20/20” their daughter, Kenley, was born a month premature and weighed a little more than five pounds. One night in August 2012, while Bria Huber was away on a business trip, Andrew Huber was changing his then-3-month-old daughter’s diaper when he lifted her right leg and heard a pop.
“She shrieked and cried, and I immediately pulled back and was shocked and didn’t know what it was,” Andrew Huber told “20/20.”
He took Kenley to the Children’s Medical Center of Plano, Texas, and she was then transferred to the Children's Medical Center of Dallas, where an attending doctor told him Kenley had a leg fracture.
“The mood changed within the medical staff,” Andrew Huber said. “They came back and said they found an additional eight fractures and possible rib fractures. I was just reeling. ... I knew I hadn’t done anything.”
Bria Huber said police told her early on that they believed Andrew Huber had been systematically abusing Kenley.
“They thought that he was so in love with me that he was jealous of the time that Kenley took from him and so, therefore, he was taking it out on Kenley,” Bria Huber told “20/20.” “They are telling me that this life that I’ve had for the past five years has been a complete sham and that basically my husband is, you know, a sociopath.”
Within weeks, Andrew Huber was arrested and charged with second-degree felony injury to a child, with bond set at $100,000. After making bond, they hired attorney Reed Prospere, and Bria Huber then crisscrossed the country with Kenley, visiting medical experts to find out what might be wrong with their baby girl.
Eventually, she met with Dr. Michael Holick, a physician at Boston Medical Center and professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at Boston University School of Medicine. After reviewing their records and doing physical examinations, Holick diagnosed both Bria Huber and Kenley with EDS.
“I got to see Kenley in my clinic and there was no question, in my opinion, that she has classic EDS," Holick told "20/20." "It can present with fractured bones -- what we call bone fragility -- fractures of their long bones or their rib cage with minimum handling of the infant."
“It actually kind of pieced together a lot of things I had that were kind of bizarre things that were wrong with me throughout my life,” Bria said of the diagnosis. “It all kind of fit into this umbrella of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.”
According to Dr. Holick, it’s estimated that maybe as much as 1 in 1,000 people have some variation of EDS.
The diagnosis helped sway the Denton County assistant district attorney in Texas to dismiss the charges against Andrew Huber and reunite the family.
"It was very fortunate for Andrew Huber that the assistant district attorney assigned to this case was an intellectually honest, capable individual who ultimately arrived at the proper conclusion and ... dismissed this case in Andrew’s favor," attorney Prospere said.
“This is not a scapegoat for child abusers. This is a medical condition,” Bria Huber said. “You can't fake a myriad of the other symptoms that go along with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.”
After hearing about what happened to the Hubers, Cynthia Ross brought Ryder to Holick, who also diagnosed Ryder and her with EDS. But authorities have not dropped the charges against Brandon Ross, and prosecutors are moving forward with his case. The assistant district attorney and child protective services in Maine declined to talk to “20/20.”
Dr. Robert Sege, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Abuse and Neglect told “20/20” he is concerned with Holick’s theory.
“They taught me in medical school never to say never, but what I can tell you is there’s no published literature about EDS causing fractures in infants,” Sege said. “There’s no objective evidence for it, and I’m not aware of any other doctors who’ve found it with the same frequency that he has. So those are all reasons that cause one to be skeptical.”
Dr. Holick said he is hopeful the child abuse prevention community will keep an open mind about his EDS theory, and that he plans to publish his findings soon.
“I've seen over 1,000 of these patients, and even as adults, they’re at extremely high risk for fracture with minimum trauma,” Holick said. “So it’s not a surprise to me that just typical, normal, handling of the infant can result in these fractures.”
Cynthia Ross has gone on a public campaign, writing to the governor of Maine, talking to Bria Huber and meeting with other families in similar situations.
“I know that child abuse is a large problem, but I also believe that, if you investigate a family that has no risk factors, follow them around for 10 months and nothing jumps out as 'this is the reason that the child had injuries,' then I feel like authorities should be more accepting of a medical diagnosis,” Cynthia Ross said.
“I know, just with every fiber of my being, that God is going to prevail for our family,” she said.