TACOMA, Wash. - The Kerseys have no criminal history and are trained medical professionals. But when the Tacoma couple brought their sick baby, Ethan, to the hospital, they lost custody for eight months because of what they say was a medical mistake.
They gave KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Chris Legeros an unflinching look at what happened when they were wrongly accused of abusing their son.
Sarah and Brian Kersey wanted a baby so badly they went through fertility treatments and suffered two miscarriages before Ethan was born.
“(It was the) best day of my life. He was finally here. He was healthy. He was beautiful,” said Sarah.
Ten weeks later, they took Ethan to Mary Bridge Children's Hospital because he was feverish and not eating well.
But they quickly realized staffers were inspecting them just as much as Ethan -- suspicious the Kerseys were abusing their son.
“It really hit me, and I was like, ‘this is crazy. I feel like I’m in a twilight zone – what’s going on?’” said Sarah.
“I felt confused, betrayed,” said Brian.
Doctors were worried mostly about red marks on Ethan's face and a red lesion under his tongue.
“They called them unexplained intentional injuries. That was the diagnosis they gave him,” said Sarah.
Soon, they were joined in the hospital by police officers, Child Protective Services and Mary Bridge's child abuse specialist, Dr. Yolanda Duralde.
And five days after bringing Ethan to the hospital, he was removed from the Kerseys' care and placed with Sarah's brother while the dependency action played out in juvenile court.
“I can't explain how the Kerseys and why the Kerseys were treated the way they were in this case,” said Kersey family attorney Liza Burke.
Burke believes CPS relied too heavily on Dr. Duralde's findings.
She says Duralde misdiagnosed Ethan's birthmarks as bruises and the scratch under his tongue as intentional trauma.
“The system has tremendous concern for children and the system can make mistakes,” said Burke.
Sarah is a nurse and Brian a certified nursing assistant. They wanted a second opinion, so they hired medical experts.
Their expert found the redness under Ethan's tongue was probably caused by sucking his fingers.
“And I had just cut his nails a few days before, so little baby nails are very sharp,” said Sarah.
From the very beginning, social workers noted in case files the couple was "appropriately concerned" and "bonded" with their baby.
The Kerseys even voluntarily took polygraph tests and passed.
“It’s not fair. It’s not fair that we had to have our lives turned upside down like this,” said Sarah.
The emotional toll was tremendous.
“I felt like my entire insides were ripped out,” said Brian.
After eight months of legal wrangling, red-tape and monitored visits with their son, a judge ruled the Kerseys are "good parents"-- but the courtroom win has not left them feeling like winners.
“We’re hoping that a system that’s broken can have an opportunity to fix itself so this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” said Brian.
KIRO 7 asked CPS to speak with them, and the Kerseys signed an authorization form allowing their entire file to be released, but CPS did not agree to an interview.
Mary Bridge only sent a statement saying in part it has a duty to report potential abuse and that, "It is the responsibility of Child Protective Services to determine whether any abuse" occurred.