Calgary

David Stephan says he felt 'shell shocked' by son's meningitis death

An Alberta father who used natural health remedies to treat his toddler son before he died from bacterial meningitis four years ago was grilled by the Crown at his trial Tuesday.

David Stephan told Alberta court son Ezekiel seemed to be getting better up to night he stopped breathing

David and Collet Stephan arrive at the Lethbridge courthouse on Monday. He was cross-examined by Crown counsel on Tuesday, and is expected to remain on the stand on Wednesday. (Erin Collins/CBC)

A father who used natural health remedies to treat his toddler son before he died from bacterial meningitis four years ago was grilled by the Crown at his trial in Lethbridge, Alta., Tuesday.

The court also released exhibits to CBC News, including the autopsy report and physician report on the child's death, which are embedded at the bottom of this article. 

A redacted report from Child and Family Services was not legible and is not included.

Weeks of illness

David Stephan, who is 32, and his wife, Collet, who is 35, are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life for their nearly 19-month-old son Ezekiel in March 2012.

David Stephan will remain on the witness stand on Wednesday. 

Court has already heard that the parents gave the boy, who had been sick for about 2½ weeks, natural remedies and homemade smoothies containing hot pepper, ginger root, horseradish and onion.

He eventually stopped breathing and was rushed to hospital in Calgary where he later died.

Prosecutor grills father

Crown prosecutor Clayton Giles suggested Ezekiel had never fully recovered from what his parents thought was croup despite the natural remedies he had received.

"Would I agree that really at no point in there was he 100 per cent well? Yeah," Stephan agreed.

He said the natural supplements normally would at least limit the severity of any illness.

"Typically that would be correct. It wouldn't be like a full cold or a full flu," Stephan said.

"When he got sick this time he actually got the symptoms of the croup and he had the full symptoms of cold, flu, so it would have been like a normal sickness. The daily regimen is just about an overall sense of well-being. It's not sickness prevention."

David Stephan, 32, and his wife Collet Stephan, 35, have pleaded not guilty to failing to provide the necessaries of life for 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died in March 2012. (Facebook)

911 call

The Crown contends the couple didn't do enough to ensure the toddler had proper access to medical care before he became seriously ill.

Giles asked about a 911 call Stephan made. The father admitted he was panicked and fearful, but told the prosecutor he was absolutely truthful with the emergency operator.

On the tape, Stephan could be heard telling the operator Ezekiel had been "in and out" of consciousness and sick for a few days.

'Shell shocked'

He repeated earlier testimony that Ezekiel had been showing signs of improvement and there was nothing to suggest he was in serious trouble.

"It appeared to be croup the first week and flu the second week," he said.

Stephan said he was left feeling "shell-shocked" trying to figure out what happened to his son.

"He's getting better in the afternoon where he's sleeping well with no signs of illness to all of a sudden he's going into this breathing irregularity that rapidly declines to where he's not breathing," Stephan said. "You're completely caught off guard. You're not properly prepared for this at all."

In earlier testimony, a pediatrician said Ezekiel had less than a one per cent chance of surviving by the time he was rushed to an Alberta hospital.

Dr. Shauna Burkholder, who works at Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary, said medical staff at a smaller hospital near their home was able to revive the boy but it's likely he was already brain dead at that point.

On mobile? Read the physician's report here. Read the autopsy report here

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the Stephans treated their son with naturopathic remedies. In fact, they treated him with natural remedies and homemade smoothies containing hot pepper, ginger root, horseradish and onion.
    Nov 16, 2017 3:12 PM MT

With files from CBC News

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