‘Nothing apparent:’ Dad accused in son’s meningitis death says no obvious signs

LETHBRIDGE — A father accused in his son’s death testified Monday that the sick boy’s condition worsened after he had appeared to be doing better, but not to the point where his parents were worried.

David Stephan took the stand in a southern Alberta courtroom where he and his wife are accused of failing to get medical attention for the toddler.

The couple are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died of bacterial meningitis in 2012.

The Stephans treated their son with herbal remedies and called an ambulance when he stopped breathing.

A jury convicted the couple in 2016 but the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a second trial last year.

Stephan, who is acting as his own lawyer, spent over three hours giving what amounted to a monologue before a Lethbridge judge, who is hearing the case without a jury.

Stephan testified that he and his wife thought Ezekiel had croup and appeared to be recovering at their home near Glenwood, Alta.

Two weeks before he was rushed to hospital, the toddler’s condition had worsened to the point that they discussed whether they should take him to a hospital, Stephan said. But they didn’t think it was serious enough.

“I didn’t see a need. The idea was there on the back burner. There was nothing that was concerning or alarming as a parent,” he said.

“There was nothing apparent.”

Stephan said his wife did call a friend of hers who was a nurse and a midwife. The friend mentioned the possibility Ezekiel might have meningitis but she wasn’t sure. And with a lack of symptoms, Ezekiel probably “would be turned away” if he sought medical attention.

Stephan said he was “100 per cent convinced” that Ezekiel had later recovered. But he soon noticed the child had an odd breathing pattern. Then he stopped breathing.

“Before we had a chance to assess it … his breathing started to get worse,” said Stephan. ”I was shocked and confused. He became very tired right before he stopped breathing.”

Stephan called 911, but when Ezekiel started breathing again, the father declined an ambulance.

About a half hour later, Stephan again called 911 as the family was driving to a hospital. They were met on the highway by an ambulance. Ezekiel was eventually airlifted to the Children’s Hospital in Calgary.

Stephan testified he and his wife remained hopeful.

“We hoped he’d be leaving hospital in just a couple of days.”

Stephan said while they were in Calgary, they were told children’s services believed there might be neglect and there would be an investigation.

“We were dumbfounded.”

Defence lawyer Jason Demers said in a brief opening statement that the Stephans didn’t do anything wrong.

“Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Parenting is not like looking into a crystal ball,” Demers said.

“Taking Ezekiel to hospital any sooner than the Stephans did may not have made a difference.”

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