David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during their appeals trial in Calgary, Alta., on March 9, 2017. A naturopath has testified she recommended an Alberta couple take their toddler to a hospital emergency room before he died of bacterial meningitis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

‘My son’s not breathing:’ 911 call played at Alberta meningitis death trial

19-month-old Ezekiel’s parents are on trial for failing to provide the necessaries of life

The father of a toddler who died of bacterial meningitis called 911 because his son wasn’t breathing but initially declined an offer of an ambulance, a trial heard Tuesday.

David and Collet Stephan are accused of failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel in 2012.

The couple initially treated the child with herbal and natural remedies instead of taking him to a doctor.

This is the second trial for the Stephans. A jury found them guilty in 2016, but the Supreme Court overturned the convictions last year and ordered a new trial.

Two frantic 911 calls from David Stephan were played in court as part of the Crown’s case.

“My son’s not breathing,” Stephan said on the first call, as he struggled to give the operator an address to their home near Glenwood, Alta., that her computer would recognize.

The operator, Carroll Moore, asked Stephan if he was performing CPR. He replied that his wife was.

“He’s breathing a little bit better right now,” Stephan said. “He’s doing it on his own.”

Stephan added that his son had had croup for a week but overcame it.

The father said he would call 911 again if there was a problem.

“If you need us you call us back, OK?” said the operator.

Moore testified that there was an ambulance available in Glenwood but, since the Stephans declined one, a request never went to a dispatcher.

David Stephan, who is acting as his own lawyer, asked Moore if it isn’t protocol that an ambulance be automatically dispatched when a child has stopped breathing to make sure everything is all right.

“Is that fair to say that is the case?” asked Stephan.

“That would be the case if the caller didn’t decline the ambulance,” Moore replied.

“In a situation like this you didn’t see it necessary to provide guidance to myself on the phone?” said Stephan.

“We didn’t get to that stage. You struggled so much with the address (that) by the time we found the location for the house you said the baby was breathing,” Moore answered.

Court heard Stephan made a second 911 call about a half hour later as he was driving, with his son and wife in the back of the vehicle. He wanted to know if an ambulance could meet them on the road.

“He stopped breathing. He’s pretty lethargic,” Stephan said on the call.

The dispatcher asked to be put on speaker and instructed Collet Stephan on performing CPR.

“When I breathe into his mouth, there’s a lot of liquid and it gargles,” the mother said.

When the family met up with an ambulance, paramedic Ken Cherniawsky took over. He testified the child was in bad shape and in cardiac arrest.

“He was not breathing. He did not have a pulse. His skin was pale,” said Cherniawsky.

Cherniawsky also testified the ambulance wasn’t equipped with the right size of bag valve mask so an endotracheal tube was used. He said air was moving into the child, making his chest rise and fall.

Court heard Ezekiel later died in hospital.

A naturopath from Lethbridge, Alta., also testified Tuesday.

Tracey Tannis told court that Collet Stephan had called her clinic and told an assistant she was concerned her son had viral meningitis. Viral meningitis can be less severe than bacterial meningitis, but it is still considered a serious illness.

Tannis said she told the assistant to advise the mother to take the child to a hospital.

“I told her to get him to emergency right away because viral meningitis is deadly,” Tannis said

A few days later, the clinic sold an echinacea tincture to the mother. Tannis said she doesn’t remember actually talking to Collet Stephan when she came into the clinic, but she does remember advising the child go to an emergency room.

Defence lawyer Shawn Buckley suggested the naturopath only recommended the child see a doctor and that Tannis “reconstructed” her story after the boy died.

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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