Mother of Alberta boy who died of meningitis breaks down testifying at trial
David Stephan and his wife Collet Stephan arrive at court on March 10, 2016 in Lethbridge, Alta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Rossiter
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, June 25, 2019 2:40PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, June 25, 2019 4:25PM EDT
LETHBRIDGE, Alta. -- The mother of a toddler who died of bacterial meningitis broke down several times while she testified at her trial Tuesday 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."
Collet 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 instead to treat him with alternative medicines before he stopped breathing.
A jury convicted the couple on the charge in 2016, but the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a second trial last year. 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.
Stephan was holding her son and listening to his irregular breathing when he first stopped.
"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.
They called 911 while driving him to hospital.
The couple have testified that they originally thought Ezekiel had croup and began treating him with natural remedies. Despite a fever and a lack of energy, they saw no reason to take him to the hospital.
"I didn't see any health concerns warranting him to see the doctor," she said.
David Stephan testified they eventually concluded 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," David Stephan 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.
David 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 he 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."