CALGARY — A former RCMP officer broke down on the witness stand Wednesday at the murder trial for parents of a teen who died of starvation and complications from untreated diabetes.
Emil Radita, 59, and his wife Rodica Radita, 53, have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of 15-year-old Alexandru, who weighed less than 37 pounds when he died in Calgary in 2013.
Charlene Beck was an RCMP constable who had been called a decade earlier, in October 2003, to investigate a report of possible abuse involving Alexandru at a hospital in Surrey, B.C.
"I had never seen a child in that state."
She testified it was something she will never forget.
"Alexandru was lying in a hospital bed,'' she said, but stopped as she choked back tears.
"At that point of time in my career, I had never seen a child in that state. He was so skinny. He couldn't lift his head. He couldn't lift his arms, couldn't lift his legs. He was a skeleton.
"He talked in very, very quiet whispers and only a few words at a time and you had to literally put your ear to his mouth to hear him.''
Alexandru flourished in foster care
Beck said the last time she saw Alexandru was when he was in foster care in June 2004.
"Had I not been there to see it for my own eyes, I would never have believed that it was the same child. He was what I would call chubby, happy ... non-stop talkative, couldn't sit down in a chair for more than two seconds at a time.''
Beck said the Raditas were charged with negligence and failing to provide the necessaries of life, but the case never proceeded because Alexandru was given back to his parents. The family then moved to Alberta.
Parents didn't believe he was diabetic
Jana Wong, a social worker at B.C. Children's Hospital, testified she was responsible for telling the couple that their son had diabetes in December 2000.
"Mrs. Radita told me that her son didn't have diabetes. She thought that he had an infection and just, with some rest and food, he would be fine,'' she said. "I was a little bit concerned because I thought this was denial was a little bit beyond the norm.''
Wong said a home-care nurse was sent to keep an eye on the family longer than was normally allowed.
She said she was aware Alexandru was readmitted to the hospital in 2003 and was severely malnourished.
"I remember one of the doctors describing him as looking like a poster boy for the children for Africa when they have those big bellies because he looked so ill,'' she said.
Wong said she was worried after Alexandru was returned to the family and kept in contact with the social workers involved in the case.
"Visits with the family were not going well,'' she said. "They said that food was an issue and the mother was using food as power in the relationship.''
A judge, who is hearing the case without a jury, has yet to decide if evidence dealing with the family's time in B.C. will be admitted.
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Commonly referred to as Juvenile Diabetes, because it’s often diagnosed in childhood. However, it can also be diagnosed in adults. Type 1 diabetics have a pancreas that produces little or no insulin, which requires insulin management through medication that is usually injected.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that almost always develops in adulthood — which is why it’s sometimes referred to as adult-onset diabetes. "About 90 per cent of diabetics are Type 2, meaning that their ability to produce adequate levels of insulin is highly compromised and they have significant levels of insulin resistance,” says Dr. Barry Sears, president of the Inflammation Research Foundation. "The combination leads to significant increases in a variety of additional disorders — in particular heart disease and Alzheimer’s — in addition to the standard problems of loss of vision, increased amputation, and kidney failure."
Insulin is a hormone. It’s produced by the islet cells of the pancreas, and its role is to regulate glucose levels in the blood. The pancreas secretes insulin into the bloodstream, where it works to allow sugar to enter the cells and lowers the level of sugar in your bloodstream. As blood sugar drops, the secretion of insulin from the pancreas does too. While both types of diabetes involve insulin and the functioning of the pancreas, there are key differences in their causes and treatments.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include the emergence of bedwetting in children, frequent thirst, frequent urination, unintended weight loss, extreme hunger, blurred vision, and fatigue.
With type 2 diabetes, the condition can exist for years before diagnosis. But many of the symptoms are the same as with type 1: blurred vision, unexplained weight loss, excess thirst and urination, fatigue. Also watch for sores or infections that are slow to heal, as type 2 diabetes can affect your ability to heal and fight infection. As well, areas of darkened skin (acanthosis nigrican) in creased areas like the armpits and neck are a sign of insulin resistance.
A variety of factors may contribute to the development of type 1 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic, including possible genetics and exposure to certain viruses. Risk factors for the disease include family history and young age, with peaks in outset occurring between ages 4 and 7 and ages 10 and 14.
With type 2 diabetes, the risk factors include having excess fatty tissue, carrying fat around the abdomen, having a family history of diabetes, being inactive, having polycystic ovary syndrome, and getting older. As well, people of black, Asian, Hispanic, and Aboriginal backgrounds are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, though it’s not known why.
Interestingly, the incidence of type 1 diabetes increases as you travel away from the equator, according to the Mayo Clinic, leading some researchers to think it could develop more readily in winter than summer. The highest incidences of type 1 diabetes are found in Finland and Sardinia, for example, where rates are about double or triple those in the U.S. and 400 times those in Venezuela.
It’s unknown exactly what causes type 1 diabetes, but in those with the condition, the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. In type 2 diabetes, the islet cells are still functioning as they should, to release insulin — the problem instead is that the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, the body becomes resistant to the insulin, or both. But while we know about some contributing factors, it’s also not known exactly what causes type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes can both have serious effects on your health if not managed. Diabetes can affect your eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys, though keeping your blood sugar levels well managed does a lot to mitigate these effects. Nerve damage can manifest in loss of feeling or pain, usually beginning in the feet or hands. It could cause gastrointestinal problems or erectile dysfunction. Damage to the blood vessels in the kidneys can lead to kidney failure or kidney disease. Eye problems are also seen in some diabetics, and problems in pregnancy are also a risk.
Prevention of type 2 diabetes can be done in part through dietary choices, and making sure you get enough magnesium may be one of them. "Magnesium plays a pivotal role in the secretion and function of insulin,” Dean says. “Without it, Type 2 diabetes is inevitable.” Measurable magnesium deficiencies is common with the condition, she says, and related to many of the related complications.
Managing stress and anxiety can also help to keep your overall health steady, including possibly staving off type 2 diabetes. "The connection between stress, obesity and diabetes cannot be overlooked,” Dean says. "The stress chemical cortisol signals a metabolic shutdown that makes losing weight almost impossible. Magnesium can neutralize the effects of stress and is known as the anti-stress mineral.” And of course, if you do have diabetes, it’s easier to manage your condition if you aren’t overwhelmed.
There is no cure for type 1 diabetes, though the disease is manageable and treatment has advanced considerably in recent decades. Those with type 1 diabetes must take insulin for the duration of their lives; the physician works with the patient to find the best insulin and dose for blood sugar maintenance. Other medications may be required for related conditions. Not all type 2 diabetics require insulin therapy, but some do. For both types, regular exercise and a healthy diet, along with weight control, can also help keep glucose levels consistent.
For some type 2 diabetics, bariatric surgery may be an option to lose weight and control the disease. However, the surgery does involve serious risks that should be discussed with your physician.
If you suspect you or a family member has type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it’s important to seek medical help as soon as possible. It may be helpful to keep track of your symptoms leading up to the appointment, and go in with a list of your medications and general information about your diet and exercise routines.