Kashechewan family wants answers after baby plagued by skin infections

A former chief of the Kashechewan First Nation has posted photos of his niece on Facebook, showing the five-month-old girl covered in an angry rash he suspects might be linked to the community's water supply.

Former chief Derek Stephen says the five-month-old survived open heart surgery in Ottawa just two months ago

A few thousand people live in Kashechewan, a remote first nation on Ontario's James Bay Coast. (Erik White/CBC )

A former chief of the Kashechewan First Nation has posted photos of his niece on Facebook, showing the five-month-old girl covered in an angry rash he suspects might be linked to the community's water supply.

Derek Stephen said the baby is recovering from open heart surgery, and he's worried her life is in danger unless he gets a doctor to see her.

She cries all the time, due to soreness and itching," he said. "They have to put socks over her hands to prevent her from scratching herself.-Derek Stephen, uncle

The baby had surgery two months ago in Ottawa to fix some defective valves in her heart, said Stephen.

Since she's been home in Kashechewan, she has developed the skin condition.

"Now it's gotten infected, all over her face and into her arms and legs as well as into her body." said Stephen. 

"She cries all the time, due to soreness and itching. They have to put socks over her hands to prevent her from scratching herself."

As for medical treatment, Stephen said he took her to the clinic in the community, but they didn't have the tools to deal with the problem and only administered children's aspirin to the crying baby.

He doesn't blame staff, saying they're over-worked. He was making arrangements to have his niece flown to Timmins to be seen in an emergency room.

Other children affected

The infant isn't the only one affected by unexplained rashes and health problems, he said. There are other children suffering itchy, infected patches over their bodies, said Stephen.

It's reminiscent of the water crisis in 2005, he said, that focused national attention on the James Bay community for a time and resulted in some promises to deal with the malfunctioning water treatment plant.

"It was minor repairs done to our water plant since our water crisis but nothing was fully restored or mitigated to properly get potable water that our community needs, but it's affecting our children and may be the cause of it, " Stephen said. "But I can't speculate as to the real cause until there's actually testing done to our facilities and to our communities."

Derek Stephen of Kashechewan posted photos on social media of the angry-looking bumps and rashes on his niece's legs and face. The baby is now receiving medical treatment in Timmins, Ont. (Derek Stephen/Facebook)

Political pressure

The pictures of the baby on appear to reinforce the message that the Nishnawbe Aski Nation tried to send to Ottawa in declaring a public health crisis last month.

"The chronic failure of the health care system for First Nations in NAN territory has left our communities in a state of crisis," said Alvin Fiddler at the time, during a news conference in Toronto.

"Children are dying and lives are at risk. The fact that many First Nations still lack access to even the most basic health services is nothing short of a national tragedy."

The Member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay, Charlie Angus, is working on convening a meeting among the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and federal representatives to resolve the public health crisis.