By Lethbridge Herald on June 3, 2019.
As far as midwife Terrie Fay Shaw could tell, there was nothing wrong with toddler Ezekiel Stephan when she checked him March 12, 2012.
The little boy’s heart was beating well, his breathing and the colour of his skin seemed normal, he didn’t have a fever and he appeared calm. In fact, there was nothing about his health that alarmed Shaw.
The next day, however, the 18-month-old child stopped breathing and he was rushed to the Cardston Hospital then Calgary where he later died of bacterial meningitis.
Shaw, testifying Monday on the first day of David and Collet Stephan’s necessaries of life retrial in Lethbridge Court of Queen’s Bench, said Collet had asked her to check on Ezekiel who had been suffering for several days from what Collet believed was croup. At the time Shaw was also a registered nurse and she examined Ezekiel who was sleeping peacefully in the Stephans’ Glenwood home.
The only thing she noticed that seemed a little odd, was that his head was tilted back a little more than normal, but there were no outward symptoms that alarmed her.
Shaw told court that because she and her husband had earlier been talking about meningitis, she discussed that with Collet, and they Googled meningitis to learn more. They found a site that described a Kernig test, which suggested that if a child’s knees raised up when the head was lifted, that could be a sign of meningitis.
Shaw never conducted the test before she left the home, but she didn’t rule out something might be wrong with the boy internally, and she suggested Collet take Ezekiel to a doctor for another opinion.
Collet sent Shaw a text message later in the day and said she conducted the test and Ezekiel responded the way the internet site indicated he might, suggesting a positive result for meningitis. Collet gave the child some electrolytes and he closed his eyes, but he responded when she clapped her hands. Later that night she called Shaw and told her Ezekiel was breathing better and seemed to be on the mend.
Lexie Vataman, a receptionist at the Lethbridge Naturopathic Clinic in Lethbridge in 2012, also testified Monday, and said Collet had called her for something to help boost Ezekiel’s immune system. Collet informed her Ezekiel might have “a type of meningitis,” and Vataman advised her to take the boy to a doctor. Collet told her she was keeping a close eye on her son, with the help of a nurse, and she was afraid if they took Ezekiel to a doctor he might be given a spinal tap.
Vataman couldn’t remember when she talked to Collet over the phone, but thought she arrived to buy the tincture a couple of days later. A sales receipt presented in court Monday indicated Collet bought the herbal remedy March 13, 2012, the day the toddler was rushed to hospital.
The original jury trial in Lethbridge in 2016 heard evidence the couple treated their ill son with natural remedies and smoothies made of garlic, onion and horseradish rather than take him to a doctor. He had been ill for several days — although he appeared to recover briefly — and he became so stiff he couldn’t sit in his car seat.
Once the boy stopped breathing, the Stephans called 911 but he died in hospital in Calgary several days later.
At the conclusion of the first trial, the Stephans were found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son, but the conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada and a new trial was ordered.
The trial, this time with judge alone, is scheduled to last four weeks, and the Crown is expected to call about 11 witnesses before it concludes its case in two weeks.
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