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News Abused toddler improving, healing will take time

Kirsten Simpkins is pictured before the incident.Doctors transfer child to Atlanta to be closer to family and friends

Kirsten Simpkins, the 28-month-old victim of a brutal attack which occurred in Dillsboro on Aug. 31, was released from Mission Hospital in Asheville last week to be transferred to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to continue the recovery process closer to her family. “She is making progress everyday, she isn’t the same little girl as before this attack, but she is better than what she had become after the attack,” said Kirsten’s mother, Jennifer Hart, of Kirsten’s current condition.

Kirsten was originally transported to Asheville Mission via helicopter in critical condition. Amongst other visible injuries to her face and body, Kirsten suffered from a hematoma and extensive damage to the left side of her brain. She had to undergo surgery to have the left bone flap of her skull removed to reduce the swelling of her brain. Kirsten’s injuries are a result of alleged attacks that occurred over a three-day period while in the care of her step-grandmother. Kirsten remained in ICU in critical condition until she was transported to Atlanta.

On Aug. 31, officers with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of an unconscious female toddler at the home of Lisa Plank Hart, 45, of Cat Tail Drive in Dillsboro.

Kirsten on a feeding tube while at Mission Hospital in Asheville after receiving brain surgey to reduce swelling on the left portion of her brain. Photo provided by Jennifer HartAccording to Jennifer, on Aug. 29 Lisa picked up Kirsten and Jennifer’s six-month-old daughter, Autumn, from their home in Warner Robins, Ga., for a two-week visit with Jennifer’s father and step-mother in NC.

Jennifer explained her daughter’s injuries as first occurring on the ride from Georgia to North Carolina and then escalating until Jennifer’s father found Kirsten unconscious and called 911 for help. “Lisa admitted to police that on the way home Kirsten threw up and was crying, so she punched her in the face, leaving a black eye. When they finally made it home hours later, my dad said he asked her where the black eye came from and she told him that Kirsten’s father and I had done it,” said Jennifer.

Jennifer explained that her father monitored Kirsten’s condition over the next two days and that he found her unconscious on Wednesday night when he returned home from work. “He said nothing seemed wrong that night (Aug. 29) or Tuesday (Aug. 30), but on Wednesday (Aug. 31) is when the bad beating started,” explains Jennifer. “Lisa said it was about 8:30 a.m. when she fixed Kirsten a bowl of cereal, and Kirsten started playing with it, spitting it out and stuff. Lisa then said she snapped and just started beating her nonstop until she was unresponsive. Kirsten laid there until my dad came home around 6 p.m. and 911 was called.”

According to Jennifer, there was a nine hour period during which time Kirsten remained injured and unresponsive. After surgery and the nourishment of a feeding tube for two weeks, Kirsten was evaluated as being stable enough to make the journey to Atlanta to be closer to home and loved ones. According to Jennifer, doctors anticipate that Kirsten will need to remain at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for about three weeks and then will hopefully be moved to an outpatient rehabilitation. Although Kirsten’s physical injuries are healing, doctors report that it is too soon to determine the long term effects of the attacks on Kirsten’s brain development.

On Wednesday morning, Kirsten’s family posted an update that Kirsten is no longer recieving nourishment through a feeding tube. Her mother stated that she is eating food regularly, and is doing well, even taking five or six steps with assistance.

Although Kirsten is showing progress, her mother is worried about the detrimental long-term effects of the attacks. “Before this she could do everything. She would run and play and could count to three,” said Jennifer. “She could say lots of words and three-word sentences. She was a very smart girl. She loved everyone. She was almost potty trained. Now she can’t do any of these things, she can’t even sit up by herself. They think she is going to recover, but will still have some effects. She will have to take seizure medicine for the rest of her life now.”

According to Jennifer, she has not had any contact with Lisa and does not plan to do so. Jennifer intends to temporarily relocate to Atlanta to stay with Kirsten until the day the doctors release her from the hospital. “We live in Warner Robins, but I am staying in Atlanta until I can take my baby home,” said Jennifer.

Lisa faces felony counts of child abuse with serious bodily injury, assault inflicting serious bodily injury, and negligent child abuse with serious bodily injury. Prosecutors were able to gather enough evidence to bind Hart to a Superior Court probable cause hearing on Oct. 26. Lisa’s bond was increased to $125,000 from the original $75,000 after prosecutors were able to establish probable cause in the case. The suspect remains in the custody of the Jackson County Detention Center. Attorney John Barrett was appointed to represent her but did not return phone calls from MCN to comment on behalf of his client.

Kirsten’s family and friends have created a facebook page “Prayers for Kirsten” for people to offer words of encouragement to Kirsten as she begins the long, uncertain road to recovery. Fund raising events and donation information can also be found on the facebook page or by contacting Rebecca Payne at 478-442-0606.

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