University of Iowa doctor surprised at missing infant’s condition

'I would have expected to find a dead baby'

Vanessa Miller
Published: February 10 2014 | 5:00 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:27 am in

One of the doctors who treated a six-day-old baby after authorities found it wrapped in blankets in a plastic crate outside a gas station in West Branch on Friday said he has a hard time believing the infant spent nearly 29 hours in the frigid temperatures.

And skepticism about a newborn being able to survive that long outdoors without eating has prompted questions of the FBI, including whether more than one person was involved in the apparent kidnapping.

“Given the weather, as long as it was outside, I would have expected to find a dead baby,” said Jeffrey Segar, director of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Division of Neonatology. “I would find it hard pressed that a small baby, regardless of how well wrapped up, could have survived and been in as good a physical condition as that baby was.”

Kayden Powell was reported missing Thursday after his mother in Beloit, Wis., was unable to find him when she awoke at 4:30 a.m. Kayden’s aunt, Kristen R. Smith, 31, of Denver, had been visiting Kayden’s family but left the home hours before his mother realized the child was gone.

Smith was arrested in West Branch on an outstanding warrant at 5:30 a.m., Thursday – just an hour after the infant was discovered missing – and she was considered a person of interest.

While Smith remained in custody, local authorities searched for the child and found him swaddled in blankets, sheets and clothing inside a plastic box, covered with frost, outside a BP gas station at 10:15 a.m., Friday. That discovery was made about 29 hours after Smith was arrested – during a period that saw temperatures dip as low as 11 degrees below zero, with a wind chill of 23 degrees below.

After he was found, Smith admitted to putting the baby behind the gas station, and drew investigators a map of where they would find the child, according to a criminal complaint. She was charged Friday afternoon with kidnapping, a charge that could carry a life sentence in prison.

When Segar saw Kayden in the UIHC nursery just hours after West Branch police found him, Segar said the infant appeared to be active, vigorous and healthy.

The baby weighed in slightly below his birth weight, but the amount he lost was not beyond what is normal for a newborn, Segar said. Kayden was fed well, he said, and his body temperature was normal. The infant required no special medical attention, Segar said, and nurses cared for him as they would any other newborn.

Both his parents came to Iowa City to pick him up Friday.

“He looked like an otherwise healthy six-day-old baby,” Segar said. “There didn’t seem to be any ill effects of being outside for however long he was outside.”

Segar said he never says always. And he never says never.

“But it seems to be at the far end of plausibility,” he said of the likelihood that Kayden was exposed to the cold that long.

Leonard Peace, an FBI spokesman out of Milwaukee, Wis., said Monday that no one else has been charged in the case and the community is not in danger. Still, he said, even with a suspect in custody, “We continue to work to see if anyone else is involved.”

Peace would not comment on whether the FBI has secured surveillance video from the BP station or the Kum and Go where Smith was arrested to see whether anyone else appeared with the baby. He also declined to comment about what search warrants have been executed in this case.

According to a criminal complaint, investigators found Kayden’s clothes, stroller and other baby items in Smith’s car. They also found a prosthetic baby belly in the vehicle.

In emails obtained by investigators, Smith claimed to be pregnant – although she did not appear so in Wisconsin, and a test has shown she’s not pregnant, according to the criminal complaint.

Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington said Monday that although it may be hard to believe an infant could survive outside for more than a day, he thinks that’s what happened.

“I have nothing to make me believe the child wasn’t out there that long,” Wethington said.

Smith was allowed a phone call while in custody, but Wethington said he’s not sure if she made one.

Joshua Stilley, a UIHC emergency medicine physician, told The Gazette that a baby surviving nearly 29 hours outside in extreme cold would be a “miracle.”

“I’m very impressed by that,” he said.

Still, Stilley said, the blankets would have insulated him, and the box he was in and the positioning against the building could have provided more protection.

“Babies don’t put off a lot of heat, but just like at home, the blankets can help,” he said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Monday said an extradition hearing for Smith is scheduled for Friday in Cedar County in connection with the Texas warrant she originally was arrested on. Authorities, however, said it’s unlikely she will go to Texas, as prosecutors plan to file paperwork to move her to Wisconsin.

A grand jury is convening on the case Wednesday, according to prosecutors.

Gazette reporters Erin Jordan and Gregg Hennigan contributed to this report.

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