A mother’s worst nightmare

When Sian left her baby with someone she trusted, she thought he was safe. She was wrong.
that's life!

Sian Regal, 25, Ambarvale, NSW

I was so excited. Butterflies bumped in my tummy as I knocked on the front door. It had only been one night, but I was desperate to see my little man, Coby. He’d turned six months old just that day and was a real ray of sunshine for me and my partner Sean, 24.

Coby was our first child and, like many new mums, I’d soon discovered how exhausting parenthood can be. After finding out I was expecting a second bub, Sean and I had decided to have a night off nappy duties. We wanted to spend some time together before our new arrival made life more hectic.

Fortunately, we had willing babysitters around the corner. Sean’s sister Jessica and her partner Adam, 38, lived nearby and had looked after Coby before. But that day, when I saw Coby, my expectant smile suddenly vanished. My little bub’s head was bruised and our little boy was gasping for air. What the hell had happened?

Sean was with me, and I grabbed Coby in confusion. He lolled limply in my arms before drifting into unconsciousness. Suddenly, I knew there was no time for questions. Coby needed a hospital. Fast.

Racing him to the car, I screamed at Sean to get in the back with our boy. Sean can’t drive, so I took us the five minutes to Wollongong Hospital while he tried to keep Coby awake. I felt numb as we reached the emergency department.

‘Help us,’ I cried. By then Coby was having a seizure and as doctors rushed to resuscitate him, I broke down. What happened next is a blur. A doctor told me he was unlikely to survive…

People kept asking me questions, and somebody mentioned the word ‘assault’…

(Credit: that’s life!)

‘I don’t know what happened,’ I said, as Sean called his sister to try to find out more. I realised then that some people thought I was responsible for the bruises on my boy. At that moment I didn’t care. I just wanted him to be all right.

It felt like forever until I was told Coby was stable. Finally, covered in a tangle of tubes, he was airlifted to Sydney Children’s Hospital. I went with him and Sean followed. There, we were told Coby had suffered a subdural haematoma – bleeding on the brain which had caused a dangerous build-up of pressure.

‘We need to remove some of his skull,’ a doctor said, explaining it would give his brain room to swell. At that point, we still had no idea what had happened. And as our tiny boy was wheeled into theatre, I couldn’t deal with thinking about how or why this terrible event had occurred. The only person I blamed was myself.

Over the next few days, things were touch and go. Incredibly though, Coby pulled through.

‘He’s suffered brain damage but we won’t be able to tell how it affects him until he’s older,’ a doctor explained.

By now the police were investigating. They didn’t think Coby’s injuries were accidental and we soon learnt they’d charged someone – Jess’ partner, Adam Boardman. I was in total shock. We’d known him for years and I never would have imagined he could be responsible for harming anyone.

Over the next two months, Coby had another serious operation and a barrage of tests and treatments until he was finally allowed home. It should have been a joyous moment, but it was bittersweet.

Coby was now eight months old but he’d forgotten how to crawl and he was behind in hitting his milestones. ‘I’m never leaving his side again,’ I told Sean.

But in March 2011, I had to, in order to see Adam Boardman appear in court. He pleaded guilty to inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent. Boardman had admitted that he held Coby up in his cot by grabbing his head with both hands and shaking him for between 20 and 30 seconds. He’d also said he’d put his hands on Coby’s head and squeezed while screaming ‘shut up’.

How could he? By then I’d welcomed a little girl, Kayleigh, into the world and the image chilled me to the bone. I just couldn’t understand how anyone could do such a thing to a defenceless baby. Reading a statement to the court, I described how Coby’s life would be affected forever. By then, the extent of his brain damage was clearer and I knew he’d never walk properly.

‘He’ll grow up wondering why he can’t do things other kids his age can do,’ I gulped, willing Boardman to look at me. But he didn’t. A month later, in April 2011, Boardman was sentenced to up to 10 years in jail with a non-parole period of six years and six months.

I was glad he was being punished but I couldn’t help thinking our boy was the one with the life sentence. Sean and I have one too. Not a day goes by we don’t feel guilty about what happened.

Coby’s five now, while Kayleigh is three, and we now have another little boy, Eli, two. Sadly, Coby has recently been diagnosed with autism caused by the assault and his behaviour is a battle every day. I’m hoping to raise funds to help care for him as the financial strain on us has been immense.

I also feel strongly that his story needs to be heard, so people understand that crimes like Boardman’s aren’t just isolated incidents without consequences. In fact, a judge lifted an order suppressing Coby’s name and allowed us to tell his story for these reasons.

As a family, we’re still hopeful for the future and Coby is starting special school. It makes me tear up because, despite all that’s happened, I know how lucky I am to have my beautiful son.

Related stories