Tracey Tannis, Alberta Naturopath, Under Investigation After Toddler's Death

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LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — An Alberta regulatory group is investigating a complaint about a naturopathic doctor involved in the case of a toddler who died of meningitis.

A jury in Lethbridge convicted David and Collet Stephan on Tuesday of failing to provide the necessaries of life for their 19-month-old son Ezekiel.

Court heard the couple thought the boy had croup or flu and treated him for 2 1/2 weeks with home remedies that included hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish, even though a family friend who was a nurse told them she thought Ezekiel had meningitis.

Toddler was given echinacea

Collet Stephan also took the boy to a naturopathic clinic and picked up an echinacea mixture for the child, although there was conflicting evidence about whether the naturopathic doctor talked to her.

A letter of concern about the conduct of Tracey Tannis, with the names of 43 medical doctors attached, was sent to the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta in March.

"We are a group of Canadian physicians and surgeons who have been watching the trial of Collet and David Stephan over the past few weeks and, while we are moved by the senseless tragedy of Ezekiel's death, we are also deeply concerned about the conduct of the registered naturopath involved in his care,'' said the letter.

ezekiel stephan
Ezekiel Stephan died after his parents treated him with remedies from a naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge, Alta. (Photo: Facebook)

The college responded in a letter, forwarded to The Canadian Press, that says Tannis is to be investigated under the province's Health Professions Act.

Kristen Tanaka with the college wrote in the letter that she will review the investigation, then "either dismiss the complaint or refer the matter to the hearings director for a hearing before the hearing tribunal.''

The college did not respond to requests for comment, but earlier said all complaints and investigations are confidential unless they result in a hearing.

Tannis did not respond to a phone message and declined an in-person request at her Lethbridge clinic for an interview.

Conflicting testimonies at trial

She testified during the trial that she was with a patient when a clinic worker interrupted to tell her a mother was on the phone asking about a treatment for meningitis. She said she followed the employee back to the phone.

"You need to tell the lady to take the child to emergency right away,'' Tannis said she told the worker.

Tannis told the jury that she remained by the phone long enough to confirm the message was relayed. She said she never met the mother.

'Baby is used to things like horseradish'

The worker, Lexie Vataman, testified that she introduced Tannis to Collet Stephan when Stephan later arrived at the clinic. Vataman said Tannis asked her to make up the echinacea mixture.

"I told her the tincture was pretty strong and she said, 'That's OK. The baby is used to things like horseradish,'' Vataman told court.

Dr. Michelle Cohen of Brighton, Ont., who crafted the letter of complaint about Tannis, said another 30 physicians asked this week to have their names added.

"There's a couple of different stories there,'' she said Wednesday. "If there's even a suspicion of malpractice, it behooves the college to investigate that.''

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