The text came in around 6 p.m. that winter day. "Don't freak out, Hunter fell off the couch," it read. Worried, Leanne Garlick immediately called her boyfriend to check on their 4-month-old son.
Anthony Sewejkis said Hunter was "OK, but a bit fussy."
In reality the boy had sustained near-fatal injuries. earlier this month on first-degree child abuse charges stemming from the Dec. 7, 2011, event. He is accused of slamming Hunter's head twice against the living room floor of the couple's Canton home and faces up to 15 years in prison when sentenced May 25.
Garlick has since become estranged from her family and lost custody of Hunter in April, after a judge determined she did not do enough to protect Hunter from abuse at the hands of his father.
Hunter clings to life as child abuse suspected
Garlick said nothing in Sewejkis’ initial text message that day indicated the severity of Hunter’s injuries, or that her boyfriend was responsible.
“He said he was OK, was a little bit fussy, basically he didn’t tell me to come home or anything like that,” she said.
Soon after that, Garlick said, Sewejkis sent more text mesaages that said the bump on Hunter’s head had subsided and that their son was starting to feel better.
When Garlick came home from work three hours later, however, she said she saw her boyfriend cradling Hunter and noticed Hunter making what she described as a “really weird, not-normal sound."
“I looked at him and I immediately knew something was wrong,” she said.
She had Sewejkis pack a bag and the two rushed Hunter to Oakwood Annapolis Hospital in Wayne.
“I didn’t question (Sewejkis on) what happened,” Garlick said. “My brain wasn’t in that thought process at that moment. My whole thought process was survival. Get him (to the hospital) now, something’s not right.”
Once at the hospital, Garlick said doctors took her aside and told her Hunter had bleeding in his brain and that his injuries could not have been caused from falling off the couch.
Police questioned the couple separately and arrested Sewejkis on charges of child abuse.
Hunter’s condition worsens
While police questioned Sewejkis about what happened, Hunter was airlifted to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor and was placed in a medically induced coma and had part of his skull removed to allow the brain to swell.
Sal Alongi, Garlick’s father, was in North Dakota for work when his daughter called him to inform him of Hunter’s condition.
“She was crying and hysterical and let me know that Hunter was hurt and was rushed to the hospital,” Alongi said. “The only thing I could do is get on the first flight I could.”
He was able to secure a flight from South Dakota three days later, and upon arriving in Michigan, saw his injured grandson for the first time.
“He was swollen up so badly, he really looked like, almost, a doll,” he said. “It wasn’t good.”
Grandfather suspected abuse weeks before Dec. 7 incident
The incident reminded Alongi of a day about two weeks earlier, when he noticed bruises on his grandson’s head and under his eyes at Thanksgiving dinner.
“When I asked what happened, (Sewejkis) said the same thing he said on Dec. 7 -- the baby had rolled off the couch,” Alongi said.
He said his daughter assured him her boyfriend would never hurt his son and Alongi said he accepted Sewejkis’ explanation.
But even before that Thanksgiving incident, Child Protective Services had been called on the couple at least twice. In the first, Garlick said Sewejkis' mother, Donna Bird, called the agency to report malnutrition after Garlick refused to feed Hunter rice cereal when he was two months old.
Garlick said she was often at odds about parenting with Bird.
In the second case, calls were made to report that Sewejkis shook Hunter and taped his pacifier to his mouth with either medical or duct tape.
The agency dismissed each claim, Garlick said, and she said she had no reason to suspect leaving Hunter with Sewejkis would lead to what happened Dec. 7.
"This was a guy that — and I hate saying anything good about him — but this was a guy that, the worst thing at that point I could say about him that I knew, is that he was lazy and couldn’t hold a job," Garlick said.
Garlick said after a dissolved first marriage to Eric Garlick of Dearborn that yielded her 7-year-old son, Francesco "Franky" Garlick, she was looking for stability with Sewejkis.
“I had a failed marriage,” Garlick said. “I wanted to make it right this time. I wanted the mom, the dad and the kid. I thought everything was OK. I got that from him.”
Hunter's improvement surprises doctors, family
In the days after the incident, Hunter came out of his coma as doctors stopped administering life-saving medication. The family was told Hunter would be in constant pain, blind and unable to move much of his body if he survived.
On Dec. 16, doctors removed the infant from life support and told the family they expected Hunter to die within about 90 minutes.
“They pulled (the feeding tube) out and we were kind of sitting, waiting," Garlick said.
Then, doctors told the family it might take several days.
Weeks later, Garlick said, Hunter clung to life as family and friends offered prayers and support on a Facebook page for Hunter.
Alongi said Hunter began moving both sides of his body, just weeks after doctors told the family he would completely lose movement on the right side of his body. He also showed signs of recognizing people and objects, such as Alongi's goatee, he said.
Garlick said the focus went from planning Hunter's funeral to planning his living arrangements, and on Feb. 9, Hunter went home with his grandparents.
Garlick said she normally doesn't believe in miracles, but as Hunter continued to fight, she said, she had no other logical explanation for how he continued to defy doctors’ expectations.
“I feel God was intervening and proving there is a higher power than doctors,” Alongi agreed.
Hunter still faces a long road ahead. He has suffered vision loss from his injuries, though not to the extent of being blind in both eyes, as doctors had estimated, Alongi said. He remains hooked to a gastrointestinal tube, as he is unable to suck from a bottle or swallow because of paralysis in his tongue.
Anthony Sewejkis faces 15 years in prison as Hunter 'has a life sentence'
Sewejkis faces sentencing May 25 by a Wayne County judge for his role in Hunter’s injuries.
Garlick said Sewejkis showed no emotion when his verdict was read in Wayne County court May 10.
“He didn’t cry, he didn’t break down,” she said.
While Alongi said he was “ecstatic” with Sewejkis’ guilty verdict, he doesn’t feel justice has properly been served.
While Hunter has made sizable strides in his recovery, he still faces a long road, Alongi said, and has no guarantee of long-term survival.
“The problem I have with this is the maximum sentence Tony could ever serve is 15 years,” he said. “Unfortunately, Hunter has a life sentence.”