Doctors Say Abandoned Baby Will Recover; Police Probe on

By MANDY LOCKE

A newborn baby boy, abandoned on the stoop of St. Augustine's Church early Tuesday morning, turned the corner yesterday, and doctors are now hopeful the infant will fully recover from his traumatic first hours of life.

"Baby Vinnie is doing remarkably well. So far, the prognosis looks surprisingly good. Let's call it a miracle," said Denise Monteiro, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Social Services. The baby was named Baby Vinnie by Boston social workers, playing off his Vineyard discovery.

Nursed in the neonatal intensive care unit of Boston Children's Hospital since he was flown there by helicopter early Tuesday morning, the newborn is now breathing on his own. This full-term infant has gained a half-pound, up from six, and should be fed his first bottle of formula today.

While Baby Vinnie struggles to survive, Tisbury and state police search for the child's parents. As of late yesterday afternoon, police had no "groundbreaking leads," said state police sergeant Neal Maciel.

A foreign worker, walking along Woodlawn avenue to work Tuesday, noticed a bundle of white linens stashed on the sidewalk leading to St. Augustine's chapel. The worker assumed the baby - soaked by a nearby lawn sprinkler, blue from cold - was dead, and ran to a nearby pay phone to call for help.

Police estimate the baby had been dropped there between 4 and 6 a.m. - a window between the last routine check of the building by Tisbury police and the witness's early morning discovery.

The umbilical cord was still attached. White linens embroidered with the initials E.B.D. and S.B. blanketed the baby.

A dramatic rescue ensued. Tisbury police officers Scott Ogden and Leo DeOliveria revived the baby, wrapped him in a fresh blanket and turned the sprinkler away from him. The Vineyard's advanced life support team managed to elicit a faint cry from the infant before loading him in the ambulance.

"This was a fight for life right from the moment 911 received the call," said Jeff Pratt, ambulance coordinator for the town of Tisbury and a member of the ALS team.

By 6:35, EMS drove the newborn to the Martha's Vineyard Hospital emergency room, where doctors worked to stabilize him. Vinnie's temperature had fallen to 84 degrees, and his heartbeat registered an erratic 50 beats per minute. A Medflight helicopter was dispatched to the Island. A team of doctors from Boston Children's Hospital accompanied the Medflight crew and began treating the infant en route to Boston.

Baby Vinnie was in critical care through Wednesday night. Doctors upgraded his condition to fair yesterday morning.

News of the abandonment shook the Vineyard this week. A scan of newspaper clippings and conversations with Island historians suggest this sort of event has never before occurred on the Island.

Police are sorting through tips received since the newborn's discovery made regional news Tuesday. Tisbury police chief Theodore (Ted) Saulnier is not assuming Baby Vinnie's abandonment is a crime.

"There is a story that goes with this, and we've got to get the story before we make any conclusions. I can imagine several scenarios in which this wouldn't be a crime," said Chief Saulnier, whose department is leading the investigation.

"Our major concern is ensuring the longterm health of the child by helping him know who his parents are. In today's day and age, not knowing your medical history is a tremendous obstacle," he added.

Child abandonment is a misdemeanor in the state of Massachusetts if the baby survives. If the child dies, it becomes a felony. First assistant Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael Trudeau is uncertain if further penalties can be imposed if the child suffers permanent injury as a result of the abandonment.

Massachusetts is one of only five states nationwide that does not have a Safe Haven law, a policy in which parents may drop a newborn at a designated safe location without fear of prosecution. The Massachusetts State House passed a Safe Haven measure this spring, but the bill awaits action in the state senate. In the bill, a church is not a designated safe dropoff.

Baby Vinnie has captured the attention of residents across the state. DSS has been flooded with calls from parents anxious to adopt the infant.

"Those folks won't be considered. Whenever a baby is found, everyone wants to open their doors. That's just not how it works," said Ms. Monteiro.

The courts have awarded temporary custody to DSS, and he will remain in their care until or unless a reunion can be made with Baby Vinnie's blood relatives. DSS will assign the child to parents who have already completed foster parent training. A family that can accommodate an infant with medical challenges will likely be selected. Once chosen, the foster parents can rename the child and begin hospital visitation.

Getting the child into a stable and permanent home is a priority for DSS, said Ms. Monteiro.

"Abandoned children have an earlier chance of being adopted. They are legally free in terms of custody. Why linger in foster care for a year, waiting for the birth family when you can place him in a loving family right away?" said Ms. Monteiro.

Police urge anyone with information regarding the case to call the Tisbury Police Department at 508-696-4240.