03/22/2016 16:27 EDT | Updated 03/23/2017 01:12 EDT

Doctor says child who's too stiff to sit in car seat needs to be in hospital

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A Calgary pediatric doctor told the jury in the trial of parents whose child died of bacterial meningitis that a child who became so stiff he couldn't sit in his car seat should have been admitted to hospital.

Dr. Jonathan James Gamble was responding to questions from the Crown about symptoms that 18-month-old Ezekiel Stephan suffered before he died in March 2012.

The toddler's parents, David and Collet Stephan, are charged with failing to provide the necessities of life for Ezekiel.

The trial has heard the boy had been sick for about 2 1/2 weeks and his parents thought he had croup.

They treated him with natural remedies and homemade smoothies containing hot pepper, ginger root, horseradish and onion.

Gamble says a child with croup-like symptoms would need medical intervention if he or she had difficulty breathing and swallowing, fever, lethargy and involuntary movements.

If the child's fever disappeared and his breathing improved over the next three days but he still had low energy, less appetite and thirst, the symptoms still wouldn't be too alarming unless they grew worse, Gamble said.

Gamble said he'd be concerned, however, if four days later the child was breathing better but was eating and drinking less than usual and was not very active. 

If the child continued to deteriorate and grew less responsive, made involuntary movements, was still not eating or drinking, arched his back and eventually became so stiff he couldn't sit in his car seat, then Gamble said "this child would need to be admitted to the hospital."

A friend who was a nurse told the Stephans that their boy might have viral meningitis and to take him to a doctor. The Stephans researched treatments online and the next day picked up an echinacea mixture from a naturopath in Lethbridge. By then, however, Ezekiel was too stiff to sit in his car seat and had to lie on a mattress in the Stephan vehicle as they drove to Lethbridge.

Court has heard little Ezekiel stopped breathing soon after that. After being taken to Cardston hospital, he was rushed to a Calgary hospital, where he died a week later.

Defence lawyer Shawn Buckley is expected to begin his case on Wednesday. The trial is scheduled to conclude Thursday, but it's expected to take longer and may need to be adjourned until April.

(Lethbridge Herald)