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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Waugh

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

I haven't blogged in a little while, but anyone who knows me knows that I had a baby nine months ago! His name is Brennan and he's an absolute joy. I have tried my best to be an informed parent, reading baby books like "What to Expect" and seeking out answers from doctors and reputable sources when I have questions about his health and development. But when he was about four months old, I was faced with some questions about his head shape and had a hard time finding unbiased information about helmet therapy. I'm sharing our experience in case it helps someone else understand what it entails, and if it's worth it.

By the time Brennan was about twelve weeks old, we noticed some flatness in the back of his head. Was it normal? Would it round out eventually? We tried to do more tummy time to reduce the amount of time he spent on his back -- but he really hated it. Plus, you can only do so much when he sleeps on his back for the majority of the day. When we went in for his 4 month well visit at the pediatrician, we didn't have to bring it up. Our doctor did. His head shape was concerning enough for her to give us a referral to Cranial Technologies to be evaluated for a helmet. We had questions for her: Could his head shape correct itself over time? Did he really need a helmet? "It's up to you," was the essence of her response. She added that a lot of parents don't pursue a helmet because their insurance doesn't cover it. "It's considered cosmetic -- not medically necessary."

I felt a little lost. And my visceral reaction was, initially: "absolutely NO helmet." And it was a bit selfish. I don't think any parent pictures their perfect infant all of a sudden wearing head gear. No one wants a barrier of thick plastic when they try to kiss their baby's head. I also wondered, Would people think there was something wrong with him? Is it MY fault his head is so flat? How could he possibly sleep with a helmet on? Won't he be uncomfortable and fussy? And what if insurance doesn't cover it -- can we even afford it? But the desire to do what's best for my baby won out, so we made an appointment for a free consultation with the feeling that we had nothing to lose.

Brennan's first imaging at Cranial Technologies

That first appointment at Cranial Technologies in Boca Raton was extremely eye-opening. Brennan was brought into a room to take pictures that produce special imaging so we could really see the extent of his plagiocephaly -- or flatness of the head. According to their metrics, his flatness was considered "moderate" -- the middle of the scale between "mild" and "severe," and helmet therapy was recommended. During this appointment, we learned a lot about the prevalence of plagiocephaly and understood how and why it may have developed in our son.

  • Nearly 50% of babies today have some degree of plagiocephaly

  • The rates of plagiocephaly skyrocketed after the AAP started to recommend "back to sleep" instead of having babies sleep on their tummies to reduce the rate of SIDS

  • Babies born premature can be more susceptible to flat spots, because their skulls are more malleable. (Our son was born almost 4 weeks early)

  • Babies with Torticollis, or tight neck muscles, also tend to develop plagiocephaly, especially on one side. We didn't realize it at the time, but Brennan did not have full range of motion when he turned his head. We thought it was a cute newborn quirk that he always favored one side and turned his head when he slept. Our consult revealed that he actually had some mild Torticollis which caused him to keep his head turned. Combined with all the time he spent on his back, this meant that one side of his head was more flat than the other.

  • If left untreated, plagiocephaly can cause facial asymmetry on top of head flatness. One ear could be higher than the other, one eye larger than the other. Helmets, sunglasses, etc. may not fit properly, and jaws could be misaligned.

Getting him a helmet started to seem like a better idea the more that we learned, and something we should act quickly on. We were told that we'd see the best results if we got him wearing a helmet between the ages of 4-6 months, to take advantage of the robust growth spurts babies tend to have during that window. We were able to find lots of anecdotal evidence from parents that helmet therapy does work, and before/after pictures we found were convincing. But then there's this: a 2014 study recommended against helmet therapy, finding that in most children, plagiocephaly corrects itself over time. But then again, there's this: a warning from the AAP that the 2014 study had "weaknesses." Who to believe, and what to do? Absent any other studies to reference, we were back where we started: it was truly up to us.

We decided we should give it a try, so we put in the request to authorize it through our insurance. Without insurance, these helmets can cost several thousand dollars. Because we had already hit my out-of-pocket maximum for the year (thank you, expensive hospital stay to give birth), the Doc Band helmet was fully covered. But it did take quite a few days to get the authorization from my insurance, which set us back for starting the treatment. When he got his helmet, he was about five months old -- so we were feeling optimistic that we'd capture some growth spurts and keep the duration of the treatment in the 8-10 week estimated length.

Brennan received his first helmet in early October

The instructions are to have your baby wear the Doc Band for a few hours, then take it off and look for red spots on their head. If the redness goes away in about an hour, then your baby has passed his "skin check" and can resume wearing it for a few more hours. After he passes several skin checks in a row, he can then wear the helmet 23 hours a day. You are supposed to take it off for just one hour a day to wash your baby's head in the bath, and clean the helmet with rubbing alcohol. Babies can overheat when wearing it -- and if they develop a fever, you should remove it until their temperature goes back down. We ended up removing his helmet a little bit more than that: to take pictures, or cool him off if he was outside in the hot Florida sun. But for the most part, we had him in the helmet as prescribed.

Brennan passed his skin checks easily and didn't seem too bothered by the helmet at first, so we were feeling good. But once he started to wear it overnight, we knew something was wrong. The Doc Band was too loose and slipping down his forehead so that it covered his eyes when he tried to sleep on his back. It would cause him to wake up at night, screaming and crying. We went back in to Cranial Technologies right away, and they told us there was apparently a design flaw and that he needed new imaging, and a new helmet, which would take one week to manufacture. OK, we thought... it's not ideal to set us back another week, but we'll keep going through the process. We got our second helmet, and we were told this one fit better. We were sent home, only to have the same problem come up at night. Slipping, screaming, crying. It was so hard to see him so uncomfortable -- and when they told us he would need to re-do his photos and get ANOTHER helmet because of another design flaw, we were pretty discouraged.

Finally we got our third Doc Band, and this one seemed to be the proper fit. He adjusted to wearing it really well, and had no issues sleeping at night. Unfortunately the delay with insurance and the delay getting the right helmet meant that he was now older than 6 months, and we missed that ideal 4-6 month window to start the therapy. We were told to expect his treatment to last longer now, maybe 12 weeks. But no one could be sure -- we had to take it one week at a time.

The follow up appointments with Cranial Technologies were initially once a week for a check up and helmet adjustment. The provider would take a look at how his head was changing, and then shave the helmet on the inside to create space for his skull to grow in the right places. After a few weeks, we switched to appointments every-other week. Each appointment, we were encouraged to see his head shape improve.

I have to say, Brennan looked pretty cute in his little helmet. And we tried to lean into it by getting custom decals on Etsy and decorating his Doc Band in the theme of his "favorite" book, the Very Hungry Caterpillar. While there were a few instances where we got looks from strangers, questions asking if he was "ok" and some kids pointing at him (that one made me cry)... for the most part, people were accepting and even excited to see him wear it. Parents would come up to us and volunteer that their baby had a helmet, and it really worked for them.

We got these custom decals from Etsy. You apply them like stickers and then paint several layers of Modge Podge over them to make sure they stay on!

When all was said and done, the helmet therapy lasted about 15 weeks. In the grand scheme of things, this may not seem like that long. But this felt like a very long time to us -- longer than we anticipated when we decided to go down this road. To the casual observer, his head looks fine, I think. Nothing really jumps out as being "wrong" or flat, in my opinion. But because I'm his mom and I've been studying the shape of his head for so long, *I* can see that his head still isn't *perfect.* After 15 weeks, and many appointments with an expensive device, I think I was expecting perfection. The technician at our final appointment said they could recommend a second Doc Band for him (Cranial Technologies says about 15% of their patients need a second band) but we decided enough was enough -- and he looked good enough -- so we were done.

Today we received the final report from Cranial Technologies, with updated images and metrics to show precisely how much his head shape has changed. This report made me feel better about the whole experience. He appears to have improved from "moderate" to "mild" -- which is always the goal with helmet therapy. There was a dramatic improvement in the symmetry of his head. There's no doubt in my mind that we did the right thing by pursuing this process. Is it possible that his head shape would have improved on its own, over time? Perhaps. But we don't know by how much. And if our son wants to wear short hair, I'd rather not have him ask me when he's older why we didn't get him help when we had the chance.

So to recap:

  • A properly fitting helmet does not seem to bother babies! They adjust really well and can sleep just fine with it on

  • Helmets are expensive but can be covered, depending on insurance

  • Plagiocephaly is extremely common -- and not your fault

  • Helmet therapy does work!

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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Waugh

Late July marked ten years "in the business " and I think milestones are best celebrated with a bit of reflection. One decade ago, I was a few months out of college, getting settled into my new one-bedroom apartment in Hampden, Maine (rent was something like $500 a month!). I literally moved with little more than the clothes on my back. I didn't even come with a bed (only an air mattress). I packed up a little Ford Focus and drove by myself from Pennsylvania to Maine to start my first reporting job in Bangor. I jumped at the opportunity to work as a multimedia journalist for NEWS CENTER. It wasn't the biggest market, but it was the most appealing place out of the job offers I had at the time (only two). Plus, the salary seemed great compared to other small markets -- $27,000! (At 22, I had no idea what it would be like to live off of that).

There are reasons to complain about this industry... the low pay when you're starting out, the odd hours and demanding schedule, the stress... and yes I've experienced all of those things. But I've always felt like the good outweighed the bad. I'm not sure how many other jobs would allow me to exercise both the creative and analytical sides of my brain, teach me something new every day, let me witness history and meet people from all walks of life, provide the daily adrenaline of a deadline and live newscast, and offer the satisfaction from seeing your work truly make a difference. Being a news broadcaster has always been what I wanted to be "when I grew up," and every day I get to live my dream. I still feel it is a privilege, and haven't seriously considered doing anything else.

The last ten years in this line of work have come with some of the highest highs and lowest lows. Like most people, I prefer to talk about the highs. But also like most people, I've had lots of struggles, set backs, and periods of self doubt. I've learned to withstand a lot of rejection and criticism. And frankly, my proudest achievement in my career so far is simply making it this far. I have seen a lot of people burn out -- people who were good, and smart and talented -- leave the industry altogether. I'm not sure how long I'll be doing this job but I do think and hope I have quite a few more years left in me. And that's why my focus lately has been on preservation, resiliency and longevity.

In my 20s, I wore my stress like a badge of honor. I had to be busy and I thought running myself ragged was how I showed I was a hard worker. I had no concept of caring for myself physically -- and certainly not mentally. Most days I would drive home from work with a pounding head ache and sometimes I would get so stressed I felt dizzy. I thought this was NORMAL. I would react very strongly and emotionally to situations and circumstances that were completely out of my control. I thought this was how I showed I was passionate. My boss once told me to not be so stressed, and I replied that stress is what motivates me. I can't pinpoint to one specific thing that made me change, but rather it was a cumulative effect over time that reached its peak during the pandemic. I guess I just got worn down, and I knew living and working like this wasn't sustainable in the long run.

That brings us to today and my ten year anniversary. No longer an MMJ shooting all her own video and at times running her own live shots, but an investigative reporter with a dedicated photographer, making a decent living in a great city, telling stories she's truly proud of. The job is still tough, and all the same stressors are there, but I'm learning to manage them a lot better. A really helpful tool has been meditation. Taking even a five minute break to focus on breathing can totally reset my heart rate and headspace. In general, I'm trying to just be more mindful of my mental health and taking stock of how I'm doing. Prioritizing relaxation on the weekends has been beneficial (and moving to a house with a pool has been heavenly). I've also tried to expend my energy more wisely. Industry gossip, office politics, playing the comparison game with your peers -- I don't find it worth my energy or deserving of an emotional reaction anymore. These days, I'm just trying to stay in my lane, focus on me and my job, and not worry so much about everything else.

It's all a work in progress of course, but it will hopefully help me maintain a balance as I invest more into my family life. I have a husband now (!) and we bought a house. At the beginning of my career, I felt like I could move anywhere and do anything, but now I have someone else to prioritize and consider with every choice. He's been 100 percent supportive of my career and didn't think twice about moving with me to Florida --- but I also know he, like most people, wouldn't want to pick up and move every few years either. While I used to think the ideal career meant moving up the markets (and by necessity, re-locating every few years), I now understand the benefit of putting down some roots and becoming an expert in your community.

From Bangor to Lewiston and Portland -- to NEWS CENTER Maine to NECN and NBC 10 Boston -- every stop in this industry has challenged me and taught me new skills, preparing me for my current role at CBS12 in Florida where I'm still constantly learning and trying to improve. I've met some of my best friends in newsrooms, interviewed everyone from little kids and lobstermen to Governors, criminals, and celebrities. When people ask about my favorite story I've done, I always say that's an impossible question to answer: I care about every single one.

So as I head into my SECOND DECADE doing this job, I'm trying my best to live a balanced life that will give me the endurance to stay in it. I feel it is more important than ever to keep telling honest, straightforward and important stories. This career can take a lot out of you if you let it. But it can also give a lot back.

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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Waugh

When I re-watch this story our I-Team did in February, I am so proud of it, considering how little we had to work with in the weeks leading up to the air date. Some stories come together quickly, others take a lot of time and effort. This one was well worth the effort.

I got the assignment to provide an update on the Katheryne Lugo cold case in January, and was hitting nothing but roadblocks trying to put it together.

Katheryne was just four years old when she disappeared from our area in 1994. It was a huge story at the time, but that was before the Internet, social media, and digital news archives -- so a Google search will not turn up much. An initial search of our station archives also turned up nothing. The system is tape based and admittedly a bit disorganized so I started my work on this story thinking we wouldn't have any old file video from the 90s to show -- just a missing photo person of the little girl.

Reading the few old articles I could find about the case, I got some names of key players: Katheryne's family members, the detectives working the case for Riviera Beach Police, the case manager from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the FBI Special Agent in Charge. Without fail, every single one of them had either retired, changed jobs, and/or moved away. The people who did answer my calls didn't know how to reach them. I had no idea who I would interview for this story, if anyone.

I started with an organization that I was confident could and would help me: the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They told me they didn't have anyone who could speak on the Katheryne Lugo case specifically, so I asked if I could interview someone who works on age progression photos to talk about how they keep these cold cases alive by releasing updated images. They said yes, and I did a Zoom interview with one of their artists, which was a start. It was a long shot, but I asked the NCMEC if they had any way to reach out to Katheryne's mother for me to ask if she'd be willing to do an interview. I had no idea where she moved to so tracking down a phone number was a bit of a needle in a haystack situation. The center told me they'd check -- but I didn't get my hopes up.

The next thing I did was try to track down the investigators who worked the case in the 90s. Detective Pat Galligan was the name that kept coming up in the old stories, so I looked into his whereabouts. He retired from the police department years ago, and all my contacts there told me they didn't know how to reach him. Looking up news stories about other cases that mentioned Pat, I came across the name of one of his friends, who happens to be a lawyer in our area. I found the lawyer's phone number online and did a cold call. The lawyer told me he lost touch with Pat but that his brother might know how to reach him. I got his brother's name and number and gave him a call. Turns out this guy was not only Pat's friend, but was also a retired Riviera Beach Police officer who worked the Katheryne Lugo case! He gave me some insight to help track down Pat, and then agreed to shoot an interview with me offering his memories of the Lugo case. I was getting closer.

Later that day I got a phone call from an unknown number. It was Pat, and he wasn't too happy with me. In my efforts to get in touch with him, I accidentally (and annoyingly) reached out to his son and wife. I apologized and explained that I had been having a hard time reaching him and didn't mean to bother his family. Eventually he agreed to do a virtual interview and talk about his work on the case and his thoughts on it today. It was worth all the effort because Pat was a sound bite machine. It wouldn't have been nearly as interesting of a story without him.

The FBI agent who worked the case also retired and I thought that wouldn't work out, until I told my producer his name. It turns out this retired agent has been a source for him in previous stories, and still lives and works locally. My producer helped me get in touch, and we did an interview. Things were coming together!

The real break was when I got an email from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, telling me Katheryne's mom was open to talking to us. I was shocked and elated. The email contained her contact information, and I started by sending her an email. Days went by and I didn't hear anything back. That's when I tried her cell phone number, calling and texting her. Still no response. I started to think she had changed her mind. I gave it one more shot by calling her number on my way home from work one night, and she picked up. We spoke for a few minutes, I explained how we wanted to approach the story, and she agreed to do a Zoom interview with me later. I am still so grateful to her for agreeing to take part. She was so genuine and emotional and it made the story so much more impactful. She hasn't spoken about her daughter's case in years and I could tell it was hard for her to revisit these memories. This was a tough interview to do because I could feel this mother's pain and at times lost the words to express my sympathy and think of the next question I wanted to ask. She generously provided several personal and rare photos of Katheryne to use in the story, which added a very personal and heartfelt touch.

As we got ready to write and edit the piece, I wanted to make one more effort to look for archive footage. I felt very strongly that we needed to show old video to emphasize the passage of time. My photographer Wally and I decided to dig through the station archives until we felt satisfied -- and we spent a while in a dark and dusty warehouse pulling tapes off of shelves, trying to decipher the old handwriting, and pulling anything we thought might be relevant to the case. By the end of the effort we were covered in a layer of dust but had six tapes that appeared to have stories relating to Katheryne Lugo. Putting the beta tapes in a player and recording them confirmed we had struck gold and located some great video from 1994 and 1995 of the search and trial.

One thing that didn't work out for me was my attempt to reach the suspect in the case. After he was acquitted of Katheryne's kidnapping, he moved to California and was arrested for an unrelated crime there. He is still serving a sentence in CA, and I was able to locate his prison and get an updated mug shot. In my wildest dreams he would have agreed to talk to me about Katheryne in a jailhouse phone call interview. I wrote emails and letters to him requesting his cooperation. I never heard back.

After shooting all these interviews and thinking about the focus of the story, the one word I kept coming back to was "hope." Katheryne's mother is holding out hope. Investigators say it's hard to be hopeful after so much time has passed. Age progression artists keep updating Katheryne's photo to keep hope alive. Is it realistic to maintain hope she will ever be found? I wanted to know if there were cases of missing children who reappeared after so many years -- and I was surprised to learn from the NCMEC that there are success stories. We located news clips about a few of them, and featured them in the story. That part of the piece really seemed to resonate with people -- and provide viewers some hope that cases like Katheryne's can be solved, no matter how much time goes by.

A lot of effort goes into all of our special reports but this one was particularly challenging because of how much leg work went into tracking people down and convincing them to talk. I'm glad we stuck with it and went the extra mile to creatively shoot the archive footage (in the actual dusty archive area of our warehouse!). Let me know what you think of the story!

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