Even if 5-month-old Hunter Sewejkis of Canton survives severe head injuries blamed on his father — a scenario that remains in doubt — his doctor testified in heart-wrenching detail Thursday what his life will be like.
He likely would never walk, sit up or eat on his own. He probably would be blind and possibly deaf.
“Hunter’s injuries are devastating, and I think it is still possible that Hunter could succumb to his injuries,” Lisa Markman, a University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital doctor, said.
Hunter, whose head was allegedly slammed twice against a carpet-covered hardwood floor of his parents’ Michigan Avenue home on Dec. 7, already has defied earlier expectations, prompting his maternal grandfather, Sal Alongi, to call him “our little miracle baby.”
Yet Markman, testifying by a speaker phone during defendant Anthony Lawrence Sewejkis’ preliminary hearing in 35th District Court, said Hunter has suffered severe brain damage, narrowly surviving because his brain stem continues to “tell his body to breathe.”
“His quality of life, if he lives, will be extremely poor,” Markman said.
Testimony by Markman, Hunter’s mother, Leanne Garlick, and Canton Police Detective Tim Wright convinced 35th District Judge Ronald Lowe to order Sewejkis, 25, to stand trial in Wayne County Circuit Court for first-degree child abuse. If convicted, Sewejkis faces up to 15 years in prison.
Lora Weingarden, lead attorney for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, has said she will seek higher charges against Sewejkis if Hunter dies. Sewejkis remains jailed with a $500,000 cash bond.
Alongi, other relatives and family friends wore T-shirts to court showing images of Hunter. The front asked for prayers for a smiling Hunter, and the back showed the baby lying in his hospital bed, tubes feeding his body, with a caption that read, “My Father’s Abuse.”
Lowe asked the family and supporters to remove the T-shirts after defense attorney Kristin Pell said the clothing, worn amid a highly publicized case, could jeopardize Sewejkis’ right to fair court proceedings by violating his due process.
Outside the courthouse, family and friends also carried signs calling for an end to child abuse. They hope Hunter’s situation can draw attention to what they called an escalating problem.
“Nobody should have to go through this,” family friend Beverly Decker said.
Alongi said the family remains hopeful that Hunter could surprise doctors by slowly recovering, though he has conceded the outlook is grim.
“We went from thinking we would have to plan a funeral to thinking there’s a chance Hunter could survive this,” Alongi said.
Hunter’s mother was the first witness inside the courtroom as Sewejkis hearing began. Garlick, who works for a limousine service, said her baby was fine when she stopped home for an afternoon lunch on Dec. 7, but she began receiving texts and phone calls from Sewejkis around 6 p.m.
Garlick said Sewejkis initially claimed Hunter had fallen off the couch and had a “small bump” on his head. When Garlick came home, however, she said Hunter’s face “looked uneven, slanted.”
Accompanied by Sewejkis, she took Hunter to Oakwood Annapolis Hospital, which contacted Canton police after suspecting child abuse. Garlick said Sewejkis appeared “somber and calm” on the way to the hospital.
Detective Wright spoke with Sewejkis at the hospital, saying the father initially told him Hunter had fallen off the couch. He said Sewejkis talked of the stresses of being a parent.
“He became emotional” and talked of losing sleep and not getting enough parenting help from Garlick “because she was working so much,” Wright testified.
Finally, Sewejkis admitted he picked up the crying baby with both hands and struck the back of his head against the floor, Wright said, quoting Sewejkis as saying, “I freaked. I f***ed up. I hurt the child.”
Alongi, sitting in the courtroom, was asked by Judge Lowe to leave after he reacted aloud to the testimony of how Hunter was hurt. Alongi later said he couldn’t control his emotions when he heard how brutally his grandson had been treated.
Wright testified that Sewejkis gave a reason why he initially claimed the child had fallen off the couch.
“He said he was afraid to tell the truth about what happened because he would lose everything,” Wright said.
By everything, Sewejkis told Wright he meant Hunter, the baby’s mother and a 6-year-old child she had from a previous relationship — a child that often visited the Michigan Avenue home.
Meanwhile, Alongi said the family is asking for prayers for Hunter. Also, anyone who wants to make donations for Hunter’s expenses — those not covered by insurance — may send checks to Hunter Sewejkis at Alongi’s business address, 12107 Merriman Road, Livonia, MI, 48150.
Alongi said donors who send $40 or more will be sent a T-shirt with Hunter’s picture. Those donors who want the shirts should include a size along with their name and address.
A trust fund also has been set up to allow donations to be made through TCF bank branches.