Apr 27, 2016

Alberta naturopath faces investigation after parents convicted in toddler's meningitis death

Tom Blackwell 
National Post
April 26, 2016

David Stephan and his wife Collet Stephan
David Stephan and his wife Collet Stephan
Alberta regulators say they will investigate a local naturopath and her role in the troubling case of a toddler who died of meningitis, after a group of doctors from across Canada urged them to take action.

Capping a six-week trial that put alternative health care generally on the hot seat, a jury convicted Ezekiel Stephan’s parents Tuesday of failing to provide the necessities of life. David and Collet Stephan had treated the 19-month-old with non-medical, natural therapies for days before his March 2012 passing.

The office of naturopath Tracey Tannis sold Ezekiel’s mother an Echinacea tincture hours before the boy was taken to hospital near death, though it is unclear if she actually met the family.

The College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta said it would treat the open letter signed by the 43 physicians as a complaint and launch an investigation.

“I will be … gathering information about Dr. Tannis’s involvement in this matter,” said Kristen Tanaka, the college’s complaints director, in a reply to Dr. Michelle Cohen, the Brighton, Ont., family physician who drafted the original letter.

Cohen provided a copy of the college’s response to the National Post.

Her own letter, signed by fellow family doctors, at least one infectious-disease physician and other specialists from Ontario to British Columbia, said the college had a duty to look into Tannis’s role.

“By any objective measure of a healthcare professional licensed to care for children, Dr. Tannis did not meet the standard of care,” the letter charges.

“Albertans … expect that any regulated health professional using the designation ‘Dr.’ would not recommend a treatment for a child without first physically examining them.”

Tannis could not be reached for comment; the college’s registrar, Beverly Huang, said that by law she could not comment on any complaint or ongoing investigation.

Ezekiel’s parents testified they believed that their son had croup or flu and for more than two weeks treated him with hot pepper, garlic, horseradish and other natural remedies. He eventually stopped breathing, and died five days after being hospitalized.

There is conflicting evidence about what Tannis did or did not do in hours before Ezekiel was rushed to hospital by ambulance.

The naturopath testified that a mother called the Lethbridge clinic and indicated her baby might have meningitis and was interested in something to boost his immune system. Tannis told court that she instructed an employee to tell the woman she should take Ezekiel immediately to hospital, and never met them in person.

But Lexie Vataman, the clinic employee, told the jury that a day or two after the phone call, Collet came to the naturopath’s office and spoke to Tannis, who then prescribed the Echinacea tincture.

Collet Stephan said in a statement to police that the naturopath had recommended an Echinacea product called “Blast,” and said Ezekiel was so stiff when she drove him to Tannis’s office, she could not get him into his car seat and had to rest him on a mattress in the back seat.

Cohen said she felt driven to request an investigation because “it just seemed there was a real noticeable silence” from the naturopathic college.

There is no indication the regulator had planned any kind of investigation before receiving the doctors’ letter.


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