Calgary

Lawyer for parents on trial in baby's death suggests children's hospital staff to blame

The lawyer for a Calgary man on trial for failing to take his sick son to a doctor has suggested doctors at Alberta Children's Hospital caused the baby's death. WARNING: This story contains disturbing and graphic details.

WARNING: This story contains disturbing and graphic details

Jennifer and Jeromie Clark brought their 14-month-old son John to the hospital in November 2013 but he died 21 hours later. They are on trial for criminal negligence causing death. (Sharon Sergant)

The lawyer for a Calgary man on trial for failing to seek medical attention for his sick son has suggested doctors at Alberta Children's Hospital caused the baby's death.

Jennifer, 41, and Jeromie Clark, 38, are charged with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life. Their three-week jury trial began Monday.

Defence lawyer David Chow — who is representing Jeromie — spent Wednesday morning cross-examining Dr. Meagan Mahoney, who was in charge of the pediatric intensive care unit when 14-month-old John was admitted.

'A mistake was made': defence

The Clarks brought their son to the hospital on Nov. 28, 2013. John had a blistering rash covering more than 70 per cent of his body and four of his toes were black with gangrene. 

"I'm going to suggest you to that a mistake was made in this case," said Chow, who went onto say the boy's saline levels were increased too quickly.

But Mahoney disagreed: "Our priority was saving his life and treating his shock, which was his most immediate, life-threatening condition." 

The boy was in septic shock, suffering multiple organ failure and ultimately died from a staph infection 21 hours later, jurors heard.

'We chose to save his life'

On Tuesday, Mahoney testified John was "absolutely, critically ill" and said she was worried he was too sick to survive the infection that was attacking his organs.

John suffered a seizure within an hour of arriving at the children's hospital, which Chow suggested was caused by staff increasing John's saline levels too quickly.

The baby's saline levels were 108 millimoles per litre when he arrived. Before the seizure, John's saline levels had been raised by seven millimoles, which was still well below the normal range for a baby. 

Normal range is 133 to 145 millimoles per litre but Mahoney agreed it is dangerous to overcorrect a person's levels in a short period of time. The doctor did note overcorrection would only be a serious concern in patients who suffered chronic dehydration or had been dehydrated for a long period of time.

We chose to save his life at the expense of his sodium levels, there was no other way to do it," said Mahoney.

Baby died of staph infection

Within 21 hours of arriving at hospital, John suffered a second cardiac arrest and died.

John died of a staphylococcus infection, which he would have survived had he been treated sooner, according to the doctor.

Prosecutors Shane Parker and Jennifer Crews told jurors they will also hear evidence the baby was suffering from malnutrition that compromised his ability to fight off infection. 

Chow asked if Mahoney had concerns that Alberta Children's Hospital might have "significantly contributed to John dying."

"No," Mahoney responded.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach her at meghan.grant@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCMeg.

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