CALGARY — The painful death of a diabetic boy who was so emaciated he appeared mummified could have been avoided if his parents had not neglected him for years, a judge said Friday in finding the couple guilty of first-degree murder.
Justice Karen Horner said Emil and Rodica Radita were in gross denial of their 15-year-old son Alexandru's disease.
"Children in Canada rarely die from diabetes, but proper treatment requires due diligence," Horner said in a Calgary courtroom as she gave her verdict.
She immediately sentenced the Raditas to life in prison with no chance at parole for 25 years. They showed no emotion.
Alexandru Radita, pictured at his birthday party shortly before his death. (Photo: CP/HO-Government of Alberta)
Alexandru, one of eight children, weighed less than 37 pounds when he died in 2013 of complications due to untreated diabetes and starvation.
Horner said it appeared that Alex had received an insufficient level of care for "likely a number of years," even though the Raditas were fully trained on how to look after him.
Alberta's chief medical examiner testified at the couple's trial that an autopsy showed the teen was severely underweight, covered in ulcers and nearly toothless. There were several signs the boy had been subjected to neglect and starvation.
Dr. Jeffery Gofton said Alexandru appeared skeletal with thin hair and sunken eyes. He said the boy was wearing a diaper and had very little body fat.
Emil Radita and his wife Rodica are charged with first-degree murder in the death of their son. (Photo: Facebook)
He told court that most of the teen's teeth had rotted down to the root and there was no sign of any dental work.
Defence lawyer Andrea Serink, who represented Rodica Radita, had argued that the couple didn't intend to kill their son, but were culpable for not providing the proper level of care.
"The Raditas are guilty of manslaughter, not murder," she said in her final argument.
Crown prosecutor Susan Pepper said any reasonable person would have known lack of treatment would have fatal consequences for Alexandru.
"Really the question is was there an intention to withhold care... leading to certain consequences that they would expect to have occur?" Pepper said in her final remarks.
Witnesses testified that the Raditas refused to accept that their son had diabetes and failed to treat his disease until he was hospitalized near death in British Columbia in 2003.
"The Raditas are guilty of manslaughter, not murder."
B.C. social workers apprehended Alexandru after his October 2003 hospital admission and placed him in foster care — where he thrived — for nearly a year before he was returned to his family.
Testimony also indicated that after the family moved to Alberta, he was enrolled in an online school program for one year, but never finished. There was no evidence that the boy ever saw a doctor, although he did have an Alberta health insurance number.
The trial heard that the parents' religious beliefs included not going to doctors. The day the Alexandru died, the family went to church and said that the boy had died, but that God had resurrected him.
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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.