Geneviève Berthiaume’s daughter, Sofia, was four months old when she went to the Ste-Justine ER with a broken arm last fall.
Her x-rays revealed more than 20 fractures in her arm. According to normal operating procedures, the hospital notified youth protection services.
Except that Sofia was in the process of being tested for a host of illnesses because her arms hadn’t unfolded since birth. Still, Berthiaume says, Sofia’s doctor, Alain Sirard, pursued a theory that the girl was suffering from shaken baby syndrome.
Sofia’s father, Marcello Manocchio, says Sirard made some surprising comments.
“I’m Italian. So he mentioned to me that normally, all Italians slap their children,” he says. “It’s a total lack of ethics on the part of the doctor.”
Sirard submitted his diagnosis to youth protection services: abuse.
Investigating child abuse at Ste-Justine
The College of Physicians and the hospital have both received multiple complaints about Sirard, whose job it is to identify cases of child abuse.
Jean-Yves Frappier, head of Ste-Justine’s Social Pediatric department, says the hospital has to take every precaution in cases of suspected abuse.
“Our role is to protect the child above all, and that’s what the law asks of us. We are forced to report,” Frappier says.
But several parents with children who were seen by Sirard at Ste-Justine’s socio-legal clinic say he didn’t listen to their explanations of their children’s injuries.
“My dad went on the Internet to try to find out more,” Berthiaume says. “We learned that brittle bone disease is often misdiagnosed as abuse.”
Some time after their ordeal at Ste-Justine, Sofia’s tests came in. She was diagnosed with a form of brittle bone disease.
Her story is one of several in which doctors at Ste-Justine made allegations of abuse despite the absence of risk factors and against the advice of other experts.
Lawyer Katia Leontieff finds this worrisome.
“When a system is not able to be challenged, to be questioned, for me, that’s a system that is dangerous,” Leontieff says.