David Stephan and his wife Collet Stephan arrive at court on March 10, 2016 in Lethbridge, Alta. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Rossiter)

Accused mother cries at Alberta trial over boy who died of meningitis

Parents charged with failing to provide necessaries of life for their son who died in 2012

The mother of a toddler who died of bacterial meningitis broke down several times Tuesday as she testified at her trial that she is still haunted by her boy’s death.

Collet Stephan told court that she still counts Ezekiel, who was 19 months old when he died, among her current living children.

“He’s my son,” she said tearfully. “My role as a stay-at-home mom is to care for my children. It’s my purpose. It’s why I was put on Earth.”

Stephan and her husband, David, are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life for Ezekiel, who died in March 2012.

The Crown argues the Stephans should have sought medical treatment for the boy sooner. The couple opted to treat him with alternative medicines.

A jury convicted the couple in 2016, but the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a second trial. It is being heard by a judge without a jury and David Stephan is acting as his own lawyer.

Collet Stephan testified that she has vivid memories of some aspects of Ezekiel’s death but has blocked out others.

“It was an extremely traumatic time which no parent should have to go through,” she said.

Ezekiel first stopped breathing while she was holding him and listening to him inhale irregularly.

“I had patted him on the back and he started breathing again. I carried him to the bedroom and when I laid him on the bed he stopped breathing again.”

She said she pinched his nose and blew into his mouth and he coughed up mucus and fluid and seemed to improve.

The Stephans called 911 while driving the boy to hospital.

The couple have testified that they originally thought Ezekiel had croup and that they treated him with natural remedies. They saw no reason to take him to hospital despite his having a fever and lacking energy.

Collet Stephan said she did research on both viral and bacterial meningitis.

“In my mind, I’m thinking out of the two he would be closer to viral meningitis than he was the bacterial,” she said.

After discussing the matter with her husband, they decided not to take Ezekiel to the hospital right away.

“I didn’t see any health concerns warranting him to see the doctor. If he starts to exhibit symptoms, we should take him in.”

David Stephan testified they suspected Ezekiel may have contracted viral meningitis. It is less serious and usually clears up on its own, but the bacterial form can be fatal if not treated quickly with antibiotics.

“I recall distinctly that bacterial meningitis wasn’t on the radar,” he told Crown prosecutor Britta Kristensen during her cross-examination. “If we thought he had a fatal infection, we would have been to the doctor right away.”

He testified that his wife did call a friend at one point who was a nurse and a midwife. The friend mentioned the possibility Ezekiel might have meningitis but she wasn’t sure.

Stephan told court that he was “100 per cent convinced” that Ezekiel had recovered, until he noticed the child had an odd breathing pattern.

He said the couple continued to treat him with natural remedies, even after the toddler was declared brain dead at the children’s hospital in Calgary.

“We were given no hope whatsoever. We weren’t willing to let go,” he said. “We would cling onto anything.”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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