Baby's hospital tale grips MySpace
By JUSTIN GEORGE
Published June 8, 2007
TAMPA - The Sheriff's Office never named the 5-month-old boy they say suffered a brain injury when shaken by a day care worker in May.
But thousands of MySpace readers know all about young Kaleb Schwade.
His 21-year-old mother, Kristy Schwade, has elicited national sympathy and donations by posting daily updates to her blog. Thursday, MySpace ranked her blog as its most popular among 150-million such online journals.
"Kaleb opened his eyes!!!" she wrote that morning.
Her blog has become an Internet phenomenon. People write to her from Missoula, Mont., and Anderson, Calif., and Tok, Alaska. Readers, many of them young mothers, find her through links on craigslist and cafemom.com. They send her prayers and poems. Sites have sprung up in support; among them, a "Help Kaleb" MySpace page.
So many people have asked to be Schwade's online "friend, " that she has 359 pages of friend requests she hasn't yet answered, she writes.
More than 4, 700 people have left comments on her page since Kaleb was admitted May 9 to Tampa General Hospital. Thousands more have sent her electronic nods of support, called "kudos."
Her blog, set in the intensive care unit, stands in grim contrast to other popular MySpace pages. No. 2-ranked "Be Plies 'Shawty' For A Day!!" contains explicit language and photos. Another blogger, "Lil Mama, " got to No. 4 by asking, "If you were a lip gloss, what flavor would you be and why?"
It's unclear how MySpace ranks blogs, and a spokeswoman didn't respond to questions Thursday.
Schwade and her husband, Joshua Schwade, declined to be interviewed by the St. Petersburg Times.
But on MySpace.com, Schwade says plenty.
Her first post after Kaleb's injuries complained that person suspected of abusing her son was released on bail.
"This woman gets out jail on a $5, 000.00 bond?!?!? What is wrong with our judicial system?"
Rebecca Saunders, 35, was arrested on suspicion of aggravated child abuse. A prosecutor is reviewing the case, and Saunders, declared indigent, was assigned a public defender.
The Sheriff's Office alleges that Kaleb's parents delivered him to Saunders' day care on May 9, only to return that afternoon and find him asleep and breathing unusually. On examination, he was diagnosed with bilateral hemorrhaging and subdural hematoma - bleeding on the brain.
Saunders, too, declined interview requests. Attorney Leon Jones, who briefly represented her, said no abuse occurred in her care. He said Saunders first met the baby a day or two earlier, and that Kaleb seemed overly fussy, couldn't stop crying and had breathing problems.
The day before the alleged abuse, Kaleb's mother referred to illness in a MySpace post to a woman on her "friends" list.
"So I just got a call from the Babysitter and Kaleb is SICK... 102 fever and throwing up... WHEN WILL IT END! I am so tired of DRAMA, " she wrote.
Diane Queto, a family friend, said Schwade took Kaleb to a doctor for a respiratory infection after the call from Saunders.
A day later, he was in the hospital for a brain injury.
In the weeks that followed, Schwade began using MySpace to tell what was then a small group of friends how Kaleb was doing. But, soon, total strangers were viewing her page, and by Thursday, it reflected 9, 250 "friends."
She told them the injury had blinded Kaleb. He also acquired bacterial meningitis. A noncontagious form may occur after head surgery, a Health Department epidemiologist said. Schwade told her readers that Kaleb might end up in a vegetative state, as much as she didn't want to believe it.
The injury also left him with seizures, she wrote.
"He had a good night, " she posted Thursday. "He threw up 2 times but no seizures. I just pray that eventually my beautiful baby boy can see again."
On her blog, Schwade details Kaleb's medications. She tells of touching moments when he grips her hand. Sentences in capital letters punctuate her feelings, and her somber messages on Kaleb's long-term prognosis usually end with religious optimism.
She describes a steak house first-anniversary dinner that she and her husband managed to make during a hospital break. She posts her address online and reports that people have sent donations and cards.
She takes hospital bedside pictures of Kaleb and updates them often on her page, writing little captions beneath: "The site where the tube was." "The 2nd day in ICU." "You can see that his eyes are open a little bit."
Readers have posted more than 1, 300 comments on the photos. The most popular one, which has drawn about 500 posts, is a closeup of Kaleb with a breathing tube and heart monitor.
"So precious and innocent, " wrote one reader. "I just don't understand."
Times staff writer Colleen Jenkins and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3368.