LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A couple who failed to get proper medical treatment for their son who died of bacterial meningitis are going to spend time in custody.
A judge in southern Alberta has sentenced David Stephan to four months in jail and his wife, Collet, to three months of strict house arrest — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She will only be allowed to go out for medical appointments and church.
Both will be on probation for two years after they complete their sentences and will have to complete 240 hours of community service by 2018.
The Stephans, whose family helped start a nutritional supplements company, were found guilty in April of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son.
Ezekiel Stephan's parents were found guilty in his death. (Photo: Facebook)
They thought he had the croup or flu and treated him instead with hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish — even though a family friend who was a nurse said she thought 19-month-old Ezekiel might have meningitis.
Justice Rodney Jerke said that although both parents were "wilfully blind" to the boy's condition, the father was especially so.
He also said David Stephan, 33, seemed more concerned about being punished than about his inaction when his son was sick.
"Mr. Stephan's post-conviction actions demonstrate a complete lack of remorse. To this day he refuses to admit his actions had any impact," Jerke told the court in Lethbridge.
The judge said David Stephan also had greater moral culpability because he called his father instead of 911 when the toddler stopped breathing.
David and Collet Stephan were convicted in April in the death of their son. (Photo: The Canadian Press)
Jerke described the Stephans as usually being "caring and attentive parents," but not at the time Ezekiel was ailing.
"Any reasonable and prudent person would have taken action," he said.
"This is far beyond a child that has the sniffles."
He addressed the couple, who both broke into tears upon hearing the judge's decision: "By your conduct, you affected many people. It left a chilling impact on all of us."
The prosecution had asked for a sentence in the range of three to 4 1/2 years, but Jerke said that was too much. But he also said he could not comply with the defence request for a suspended sentence because of the aggravating factor that Ezekiel was a "vulnerable young child."
"By your conduct, you affected many people. It left a chilling impact on all of us."
The Stephans were given a hero's welcome by tearful supporters when they arrived at the courthouse Friday with their three children.
People in a crowd of about 70 shouted "We love you" as the couple hugged and thanked supporters. David Stephan told them he appreciated their love at a time when what he called "misinformation" had turned people against him and his wife.
A handful of counter-protesters, most of them medical doctors, set up across the courtyard.
"You can not impose your personal views on your children in a way that endangers their life,'' said Dr. Kirsten Jones, a general surgeon from Lethbridge. "Those children have a right to grow up to become independently thinking adults and to form their own moral judgments at that time."
At the sentencing hearing, David Stephan said it was important for his three other children to have a father "who'll help raise them up."
"I am incredibly sorry I did not take him to the hospital."
"Looking back at it, had I known that it could possibly end up in this situation, I would not have put my child at risk,'' he told court.
Collet Stephan, 36, said her only purpose in life is to be a mother.
"My children are everything to me and I'm everything to my children,'' she said. "I am incredibly sorry I did not take him to the hospital.
"I just loved him so much."
The trial heard the little boy was too stiff to sit in his car seat and had to lie on a mattress when his mother drove him from their rural home to a naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge to pick up an echinacea mixture.
The Stephans never called for medical assistance until Ezekiel stopped breathing. He was rushed to hospital, but died after being transported to Calgary Children's Hospital.
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Your newborn should get this shot even before leaving the hospital, and receive another dose at one to two months and a third at six to 18 months. The vaccine protects against an incurable, liver-infecting virus, hepatitis B, which can be passed to a baby during childbirth if the mother is infected. This virus spreads through contact with blood or other body fluids (sharing toothbrushes and utensils can put you at risk). Soreness at the site of the shot, or a slight fever, is the most common side effect, according to Gabrielle Gold-von Simson, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.
The DTaP vaccine protects against diphtheria (a germ that can form a gray or black film in the throat), tetanus (an infection that can cause muscle spasms so strong they can break bones), and pertussis (a highly contagious disease that causes a severe, uncontrollable cough, known as whooping cough). Five vaccine doses are given to children at two months, four months, six months, 15 to 18 months and four to six years. (And boosters at age 11 or 12 and then every 10 years.) DTaP may be combined with other vaccinations to reduce the number of shots needed. "Now, it's DTaP with hepatitis B and the polio vaccine. So, it's five in one," Dr. Gold-von Simson says.
This combo shot protects against three viruses: measles (which causes high fever and a body-wide rash); mumps (which causes face pain, swelling of the salivary glands, and sometimes scrotal swelling in boys); and rubella or German measles (which can cause birth defects if the infection occurs during pregnancy). The first shot is given at 12 to 15 months of age and once again between the ages of four and six. MMR is sometimes combined with the chickenpox vaccine into one shot (brand name ProQuad). "All these different preparations are designed to reduce the amount of shots the pediatrician has to give," says Dr. Gold-von Simson.
Chickenpox, a highly contagious rash that many people remember from childhood, is caused by the varicella virus. A varicella vaccine was first licensed in 1995 and now spares future generations this itchy misery. Chickenpox infections can be especially dangerous in adults who don't have immunity from the vaccine or haven't had it in childhood, and can also lead to shingles, an extremely painful blistering rash. The shot is given to children at 12 to 15 months and again between four and six years. The vaccine can cause soreness at the site of the shot, fever, and, in some cases, a mild rash.
"Haemophilus influenza type b is the bacterium that causes meningitis," says Dr. Gold-von Simson. Meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, is particularly dangerous for kids under the age of five. Hib vaccines are generally given at two, four, six, and 12 to 15 months of age. Depending on the vaccine used, the six-month shot may not be needed. Fever, swelling, and redness at the site of the shot are potential side effects.
Polio vaccine is "such a success," says Dr. Gold-von Simson. "Because of the vaccine, there are no more cases (of polio)." There are no more in the United States that is. The virus hasn't been eradicated worldwide, so kids still get the IPV, or inactivated polio vaccine, which is a shot containing killed virus. Polio is bad news, and can cause paralysis and even death. Children are given the IPV at two months, four months, between six to 18 months, and then again between the ages of four and six years.
This vaccine, known as PCV13 (brand name Prevnar), protects against 13 types of Streptococcus pneumoniae, which are bacteria that can cause all sorts of mayhem, including meningitis, pneumonia, ear infections, blood infections, and even death. A total of four shots are given to kids (at two, four, six, and 12 to 15 months of age) to protect them against the germs, known collectively as pneumococcal bacteria. The most common side effects of the vaccine include drowsiness, swelling at the site of the shot, mild fever, and irritability.
Flu vaccinations are given each year starting in the fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends them for kids ages six months or older, although they aren't required for school attendance. (Connecticut and New Jersey require the vaccine for attending child-care centers and preschool.) Common side effects from the vaccine include soreness, redness, or swelling at the site of the shot. Fever and aches may occur too. "If you have an egg allergy, you shouldn't have the influenza vaccine," says Dr. Gold-von Simson.
The rotavirus vaccine (RV) (brand names RotaTeq, Rotarix) is given to children at two and four months of age. (RotaTeq is also given at six months.) The vaccine protects against a virus that is the most common cause of severe diarrhea and vomiting in young kids worldwide. About 55,000 children in the U.S. were hospitalized each year due to rotavirus before the vaccine was licensed in 2006. It is not required for school attendance. The vaccine is in liquid form and given by mouth to babies. It may make them a bit more irritable and can also cause mild diarrhea or vomiting.
Kids can catch hepatitis A from sharing food or drinks or by putting contaminated food or objects in their mouths. It's a viral infection that affects the liver, and can cause a number of symptoms, including fever, tiredness, jaundice, and loss of appetite. Children ages 12 through 23 months generally get two doses of the Hep A vaccine, with a minimum interval of six months between shots. Some states require the vaccine for school attendance. Soreness where the shot was given, headache, and loss of appetite are the most common side effects of the vaccine.
This vaccine, known as MCV4 (brand name Menactra), protects against meningococcal bacteria, which can infect the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. MCV4 is recommended for kids at 11 or 12 years of age, and anyone between ages two and 55 who is at increased risk of infection (people with certain health conditions, military recruits). Teens starting college should be vaccinated with MCV4 before going to school if they didn't previously get the shot. (Freshman living in dorms are at increased risk of infection.) A little pain at the site of the shot is the most common side effect.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (brand names Gardasil, Cervarix) is given in three doses over a six-month period, and is approved for girls between ages nine and 26. While there are over a hundred types of HPV, this vaccine protects against two sexually transmitted types that are the most common causes of cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against two types that cause genital warts and is approved for boys between nine and 26 as well. The vaccine works only if given before an infection, so doctors recommend it for kids well before they could become sexually active. Although most states don't require HPV vaccination, many are considering mandating it for preteen girls.