Living for September

June Norris' eyes still fill with tears when she talks about what happened to her granddaughter, September Watson, almost 10 years ago.

Born on Christmas Day in 1998, September was a healthy and happy baby. That changed four weeks later, when she was violently shaken by her then 17-year-old father, Jerry Lee Hood.

His actions resulted in brain damage so severe that September is unable to walk, talk, see or do anything for herself.

"They told us at the hospital to start planning her funeral," June recalls. "But I wasn't going to accept that."

Since that day, she has devoted her life to caring for her granddaughter.

September needs constant attention. Her bed, filled with stuffed animals, is set up an arm's length away from where June sleeps.

"Every time she makes a noise, I'm up," June says. "I probably only get a few hours of sleep a night, because I'm afraid she's gonna quit breathing on me."

At almost 70 pounds, September is getting more difficult to lift. The narrow hallway in their home does not accommodate her wheelchair, so she must be carried from room to room. June accepts that dealing with her own health problems, including back pain, must be put on hold because she cannot afford health insurance.

"My pain is nothing compared to what September has to go through," she says. "I just deal with it."

Questions still linger in June's mind about what happened.

"I just want to know why," she said. "How in the world could someone do this to a 4-week-old baby, I will never know."

Mr. Hood was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but June feels that it's not enough.

"September got life," she says.

June says her daughter was not able to properly care for the child.

According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, between 1,200 and 1,400 babies are injured or die every year from the effects of being violently shaken. Most often it occurs when adults are frustrated or angry and lose control.

June believes that September survived in order to educate people about the consequences of shaking a child.

"I think when people meet September or hear her story, they'll hug their kids a little tighter and think twice about doing anything that could possibly hurt them," she said.

Although emotional, physical and financial burdens have become the norm in June's life, September is her motivation to keep going.

"September is my life," she says. "There are some days that I feel guilty, because I want a life, too, but I wouldn't trade her for a million bucks."

Online Extra

View Jackie Ricciardi's slideshow on September Watson.

HOW TO HELP

DONATIONS: An account for September Watson is set up at Wachovia Bank, 3115 Peach Orchard Road, Augusta, GA 30906. You may also contact June Norris at dorisjune44@yahoo.com or (706) 414-7363.

EDUCATION: For more information about Shaken Baby Syndrome, visit The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome at www.dontshake.org.