WESTLOCK – The parents of a then 23-month-old toddler who ended up in the intensive care unit at Stollery Children’s Hospital in the fall of 2020 “severely malnourished” and on the verge of death, each face a nine-month suspended sentence that includes a portion of strict 24-hour house arrest.
In Westlock Provincial Court on September 28, the couple, who sat together but were represented by different defense attorneys, each pleaded guilty to a single count of failing to provide the necessities of life, while a second identical count was withdrawn by the Joint Crown Prosecutors. Heather Fraser and Katrina Stewart Lund – defense attorney requested and received a publication ban which prohibits reporting of anything that could identify the child.
Judge Karl Wilberg accepted a joint submission from the Crown and defense attorneys Richard Forbes and Karl Teskey that would see the father under three months of 24-hour house arrest, then six months from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. morning curfew, while the mother faces six months of 24-hour house arrest, then three months of an identical curfew. At the end of the nine months, the couple, who have five children together, will be on probation for 24 months under a host of conditions – one includes the mother attending nutrition or mental health counseling on the advice of the supervisor of probation.
Judge Wilberg said that although the incident could have had a tragic end because the child “according to the agreed statement of facts, he was literally … his time on Earth was coming to an end”, the boy now almost four-year-old has recovered and is doing well “and that’s a very happy result.” He said this case was distinct from others in that the parents were not drug or alcohol addicted or “narcissistic or self-involved” but were “successful” and “well-meaning” parents who accepted responsibility and “found themselves in this situation”. under failing to exercise good judgment. The judge also declined to impose a victim surcharge “given the stress the entire family has been under.”
“As someone who has been involved in the system for decades as a defense attorney, then as a crown attorney, then as a judge, I can say that it is obvious to me that the lawyers have worked very hard on this and it shows,” Judge Wilberg said. “The result has been a sentence that one would think has its best chance of achieving the ultimate goal of restoring the couple, their own community and their children to the best possible state, while letting the public know, as far as they can tell given the (publication) ban, that children are very important and should be treated as the treasures they are.
While the father declined to comment, the mother spoke expressing her “sincere appreciation” for all who looked after her child who spent just under a month in hospital. Forbes noted that the child is no longer undernourished and has “made great strides in his developmental milestones…and is now on par with his peers.” He said the couple, along with the children, had been involved in counseling and received help from children’s services and called the joint sentence “the best outcome for this young boy and his parents” because the family is now “fulfilled”. ”
“I love him so much, he is so precious to me. I want him to be healthy and happy and I recognize the extraordinary work of many medical professionals in saving his life,” the mother said. My greatest hope is to move forward taking care of my family and creating a strong future for my children.”
Reading an agreed statement of facts, Fraser told the court that on October 8, 2020, the father took his then 23-month-old son to the emergency room at Westlock Healthcare Center with swollen feet, hands and legs.
“He appeared to be malnourished and the history provided by the father to staff indicated that his nutritional history was inappropriate for his age,” Fraser said. “He didn’t have the strength to stand or stand.”
Fraser said the child had “regressed” in terms of standing, walking and crawling and “did not speak appropriately for a child of this age”.
Westlock’s doctors “feared his life was in danger” and he was taken by ambulance to Stollery Children’s Hospital.
“The paramedics who transported him to Edmonton said he had no more fighting. He wouldn’t even back away from attempts to administer an IV like most kids would,” Fraser said.
The child was transferred to the intensive care unit and although he was listed in stable condition, he was diagnosed with “severe malnutrition”.
A report from the Child and Adolescent Protection Center notes that the boy had to be fed intravenously and that there were numerous abnormalities in his blood and low levels of vitamin B12, tyramine, iron, vitamin D, zinc, copper and selenium.
“His food and micronutrient supplements were closely monitored by a dietitian to minimize the effects of refeeding syndrome, a life-threatening complication that can occur when food is restarted in a severely malnourished patient,” Fraser explained.
On October 10, while still in intensive care, the boy suffered a ‘life-threatening’ drop in blood pressure and by October 13 his condition had stabilized, although a brain MRI showed the effects of his malnutrition.
In the days leading up to his discharge from hospital on November 4, staff noted that the child was not chewing his food and that doctors wanted his mother to stop breastfeeding him. The father told investigators that at the age of three to four months the boy was vomiting, so his mother removed dairy and latex products from his diet “and the vomiting went down”.
Around the age of six months, the boy started to eat solid foods, but he vomited again and his mother started breastfeeding again at eight months.
“At the time of his admission to the hospital, he was basically only receiving breast milk from his mother. He was not walking, he was standing and walking along the furniture, but he had not walked yet,” said said Fraser.
She said that in July 2020 the boy had regressed and stopped standing, crawling or playing with his siblings, while his parents then also noted swelling in his feet which would follow his calf.
“At the time of his admission to the hospital, he ate very little solid food, at best a little rice each day.”
Hospital experts feared the mother was also suffering from malnutrition ‘due to her restrictive diet’ and one thought she may have orthorexia, ‘an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating “.
Fraser also noted that throughout the summer of 2020, extended family and even the midwife recommended taking the child to the doctor, but the couple did not follow the advice.
On December 4, 2020, all of the children were removed from the home by the Children’s Service and placed with their paternal grandparents.
The child has since shown steady improvement, as a July 2021 report said he had grown to 29lbs, from just 14lbs when he was admitted to hospital. The report also noted that he still had “deficits” but was beginning to walk and communicate with sound and after dental surgery he had started eating solid foods.
The children were finally released to their parents on December 14, 2021, with a supervision order in place – this order expired on September 14, 2022, and Children’s Services has closed the case and is pleased with the improvement in the child.
“A January 2022 report illustrated further improvement. He was behind in speech but was gaining significant vocabulary at a rapid rate and otherwise reaching his milestones. He had gained more weight and was being seen by a pediatrician,” Fraser said.
George Blais, TownandCountryToday.com