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Mom charged with putting bleach in her toddler's eyes

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A 29-year-old Washington state woman was charged Monday with first-degree child abuse after doctors said she nearly blinded her toddlerby replacing the child's antibiotic eyedrops with household bleach.

A 29-year-old Washington state woman was charged Monday with first-degree child abuse after doctors said she nearly blinded her toddler daughter by replacing the child’s antibiotic eyedrops with household bleach.

Jennifer Lynn Mothershead of Buckley, Wash., was arrested Friday after a nearly yearlong investigation that revealed that she inflicted severe eye and head injuries on the child, court documents show. She was held by Pierce County officials in lieu of $150,000 bail.

The child’s injuries were recounted earlier this month in a medical journal in which doctors at Seattle Children’s Hospital revealed they treated the girl for nearly two months and may have missed signs of abuse.

“Of course we felt guilty, we knew from very early on that she had this,” said Dr. Avery H. Weiss, of the Roger Johnson Clinical Vision Laboratory at Seattle Children’s. “But we were reluctant to implicate the mother until we were 100 percent sure.”

Mothershead was separated from the child’s father, Cody B. Mothershead, who is a math teacher at a local high school, White River High School, in Buckley, a town of 4,500 in western Washington state. School district officials said Monday they were not aware of the extent of the child’s injuries or whether Cody Mothershead was aware of the abuse. As a teacher, he would be required by law to report any suspicion of child abuse.

Mothershead told investigators his estranged wife wouldn’t allow him to administer the eye drops and used the child’s medical condition to deny visits with the girl, whom he saw for a few hours every week to 10 days.

Court records showed that Jennifer Mothershead said the child’s eyes had been swollen shut for four weeks and that the girl slept 20 to 22 hours a day because of the discomfort.

Weiss said the toddler was brought to Seattle Children’s with an unusual eye infection and a corneal abrasion.

“We thought, this doesn’t all fit together unless someone is putting something on the eye,” Weiss told msnbc.com.

When the child was hospitalized, her condition would improve. When she went home, it got worse, Weiss said.

On May 12, 2011, the child, then 14 months old and identified in the court records only as K.L.M., was airlifted to a local trauma center, Harborview Medical Center, with a subdural hematoma, or brain hemorrhage, court records show.

The mother appeared “unperturbed about the situation and said she had no idea what caused K.M.’s head injury,” the records show.

She told the medical staff the child had to be swaddled when eye drops or antibiotics were administered.

After the head injury, doctors confiscated the child’s eye drops.

“When the eye drop bottle was opened, a noxious smell filled the room,” Weiss wrote. Court records say the contents caused burning eyes and mild nausea for staff members present.

Laboratory tests confirmed a pH of 6.0 and the presence of bleach, according to the Journal of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.

It’s not clear why Jennifer Mothershead allegedly abused the child. Weiss said the situation did not appear to be a case of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, in which parents sometimes abuse children by making them appear to be ill in order to gain attention for themselves.

“This was purposeful child abuse,” said Weiss.

There may have been an indication that Jennifer Mothershead was mentally ill, doctors said. Ben Vrieze, a Buckley man who said he bought Mothershead's house last year, said the place was strewn with court papers.

“She didn’t seem balanced at all,” he said.

The little girl’s vision is permanently impaired, Weiss said, who added that he hasn’t been able to fully examine her vision because she is unable to sit still.

“This child isn’t going to be normal for the rest of her life,” he said.

Weiss said he wrote the journal article as a way to urge other ophthalmologists to consider child abuse as a possible cause of eye injuries that don’t heal.

Mothershead gave birth to a second child in August, according to a Washington state child protective services official. That child, whose gender was not identified, was placed in the care of relatives. No charges of abuse have been filed in connection with that infant.

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