An employee at a southern Alberta naturopathic clinic says the mother of a gravely ill toddler asked for an immune system boost because she feared her son had viral meningitis.

Lexie Vataman, who fills holistic prescriptions at the Lethbridge Naturopathic Medical Clinc, told a jury Wednesday that she received a call from Collet Stephan in March 2012.

"She needed something to build up her baby's immune system," said Vataman.

"She said, 'My baby might have a form of meningitis and we think it might be viral and not bacterial."'

Vataman said she asked if Stephan had taken her son to a medical doctor. She said Collet replied that a friend who was a nurse was keeping an eye on him and he didn't have a fever.

Stephan, 35, and her husband David Stephan, 32, have pleaded not guilty to failing to provide the necessities of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died in March 2012.

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Ezekiel Stephan of Raymond, Alta., died in March 2012. An autopsy shows he had meningitis. (Stephan family)

Crown prosecutor Clayton Giles alleges David Stephan, who works at a nutritional supplements company called Truehope Nutritional Support out of Raymond, Alta., and his wife Collet didn't do enough to get the boy medical care.

The trial in Lethbridge has been told that the couple first thought the boy had croup and treated him with natural remedies and homemade smoothies containing hot pepper, ginger root, horseradish and onion.

Collet Stephan came in within a day or two of the call and spoke briefly to naturopath Tracey Tannis, who asked Vataman to make up a tincture of echinacea.

Surprised baby could tolerate

"I told her the tincture was pretty strong and she said, 'That's OK, the baby is used to things like horseradish,"' Vataman said.

"I was quite surprised that a baby would be able to tolerate that."

Defence lawyer Shawn Buckley grilled Vataman on her recollection of past events and her need to refer back to her original police statement.

Vataman acknowledged her memory isn't that good but maintained her testimony was correct.

Family friend asked to help

Terrie Meynders, a family friend and registered nurse, testified that Collet Stephan called to ask her to look at Ezekiel.

"It did not jump out at me that he was that seriously ill," said Meynders. But she did suggest that his illness could be internal, possibly viral meningitis.

"I think you should take him to see a doctor," Meynders said she told the mother.

During a recorded interview on March 15, 2012, Collet Stephan told RCMP that Ezekiel's body was too stiff to get him into his car seat. The couple put a mattress in the back of their vehicle to take him to the naturopath.

David Stephan told an officer during his interview that he and his wife had come up with a "game plan" to give Ezekiel additional natural remedies for meningitis and, if the treatment didn't help, they would take him to a hospital.

Breathing wasn't normal

Then his condition grew worse.

"All of a sudden his breathing wasn't normal," Collett Stephan told RCMP.

The Stephans called 911 and performed CPR on the toddler as they drove to meet an ambulance from a nearby community. The boy stopped breathing several times.

"He was blue by the time we met up with the ambulance," Collet Stephan told a Mountie.

The boy was taken to Lethbridge, then airlifted to Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary. After five days, doctors took him off life support.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story stated David and Collet Stephan run Truehope. In fact they do not. The company has clarified on its Facebook page that David works at the company but does not hold a management position.
    Mar 10, 2016 3:24 PM MT