Toddler undergoing another surgery this Friday.
A year and two months after then 28-month-old Kirsten Simpkins was brutally attacked by her stepgrandmother in Dillsboro, the case has finished up in court. Last Wednesday, Lisa Plank Hart of Dillsboro, who in May pled guilty to felony child abuse for inflicting serious bodily harm, was sentenced to 63 months in jail, with the option of early release based on her behavior. After time served of 13 months, Hart is facing 50 months behind bars, a sentence that Simpkins' mother, Jennifer Hart, said does not come close to making up for what she did to her daughter more than a year ago.
“Lisa only got 63 months, then minus the 13 months she has already served, so about 50 months but she can get out on good behavior,” said Jennifer. “I feel that she should have gotten a lot longer for nearly killing my child. I have not had contact with Lisa and will continue to not have any contact with her. Lisa took my child's normal childhood and she gets a light sentence.”
The news of Hart's conviction came a week before Simpkins will undergo brain surgery due to the injuries she sustained during the attack. “Kirsten is doing very well and is healing pretty good,” said Jennifer. “Her surgery, which is Friday (September 28) is to place a prosthetic where her skull was removed. She will be in the hospital 4-5 days.”
According to Jennifer, the effects of the attack are still evident in Simpkins' speech and behavior and although the surgery will benefit the toddler, doctors are not sure of the impact it will have on her recovery. “We are not sure if the surgery will help her recover, but she won't have to wear the helmet anymore,” said Jennifer. “Me and my family will help Kirsten recover and continue with speech and physical therapy and keep faith that she will return to her old self.”
On Aug. 31, 2011, 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.
According to Jennifer, on Aug. 29, Hart 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 stepmother in N.C.
According to police reports, Jennifer explained her daughter’s injuries first occurred on the ride from Georgia to North Carolina and then escalated until Jennifer’s father found Kirsten unconscious and called 9-1-1 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 9-1-1 was called.”
Kirsten was originally transported to Asheville Mission via helicopter in critical condition. Along with 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 remained in ICU in critical condition until she was transported to Atlanta.
After surgery and the nourishment from 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, Kirsten was at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for about three weeks and then moved to an outpatient rehabilitation. At the time, doctors were unable to determine the long term effects of the attacks on Kirsten’s brain development.
Originally Hart faced felony counts of child abuse with serious bodily injury, assault inflicting serious bodily injury, and negligent child abuse with serious bodily injury.
Kirsten’s family and friends have created a facebook page “Prayers for Kirsten” for people to offer words of encouragement to Kirsten as she continues down the 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.