Another child dead from quackery: The parents say they’re being persecuted in a plot to impose forced vaccination

A couple of days ago, I wrote about a story of a sort that I’ve had to write about far too many times over the last eleven years. I wrote about the death of a child—but not just any death of a child, the death of a child who could have—should have—lived. The child’s name was Ezekiel Stephan, and his parents are David and Collet Stephan. The reason that child should have lived is because he suffered from a disease that medicine can treat, meningitis. Unfortunately, his parents didn’t take him to a real doctor. They took him to a naturopath, who recommended maple syrup, juice with frozen berries and a mixture of apple cider vinegar, horse radish root, hot peppers, mashed onion, garlic and ginger root as a treatment for meningitis—all without ever having examined the patient.

Now, quite rightly, they are on trial, and, as you will see, are trying to paint themselves as persecuted by The Man, who, if you believe them, is coming down on them hard as a way to bypass Canadian law and bring about forced vaccination. 

You might think that there wouldn’t be much to write now, only two days after I last wrote about this case, but you’d be wrong. First, the name of the naturopath who treated Ezekiel was revealed, Dr. Tracy Tannis. It turns out that I had narrowed down the list of suspects pretty well, to Cindy Cervanka, Clayton J. Koganow, and Tracy Pike. Tracy Pike, it turns out, is Tracy Tannis and is listed on her practice’s website as Tracy (Pike) Tannis. Or perhaps I should say was listed. The website for her practice, Lethbridge Naturopathic Medical Clinic, has been scrubbed, including Tannis’ page. Fortunately, the Internet never forgets, no matter how hard a quack tries to shove the evidence down the memory hole, and the almighty Archive.org contains a recent (January 30) snapshot of Tannis’ website. Right there on the front page I see:

Our clinic offers the following services:

  • chelation
  • IV nutrients
  • IV vitamin C
  • blood lab services
  • acupuncture
  • herbal medicine (Tinctures & Dry Herbs)
  • ozone therapy
  • hair analysis
  • allergy testing and more!

All these services are provided by a Naturopathic Doctor.

Dr. Tannis provides individual and family health care. The clinic commonly treats: andropause, asthma, high cholesterol, candidiasis, common colds, sinusitis, food & inhalant allergies, chronic pain, digestive issues, depression, hormonal imbalances,thyroid diseases, GERD, PMS, heart disease, fertility problems, menopause, memory loss, obesity, ovarian cysts, adrenal fatigue, cancer, rheumatoid & osteoarthritis,chronic fatigue, psoriasis, eczema & fibromyalgia.

In other words, it’s the usual naturopathic quackery. Chelation therapy, as I’ve pointed out before, is potentially deadly. IV vitamin C doesn’t treat anything, much less cancer. Acupuncture, of course, is quackery. Ozone therapy is just plain frightening, as it often involves intravenous injections of hydrogen peroxide.

How do we know that Tracy Tannis was involved and what she did? Lexie Vataman, an employee of the Lethrbridge Naturopathic Medical Clinic, testified yesterday:

An employee at a southern Alberta naturopathic clinic says the mother of a gravely ill toddler asked for an immune system boost because she feared her son had viral meningitis.

Lexie Vataman, who fills holistic prescriptions at the Lethbridge Naturopathic Medical Clinc, told a jury Wednesday that she received a call from Collet Stephan in March 2012.

“She needed something to build up her baby’s immune system,” said Vataman.

“She said, ‘My baby might have a form of meningitis and we think it might be viral and not bacterial.”‘

Vataman said she asked if Stephan had taken her son to a medical doctor. She said Collet replied that a friend who was a nurse was keeping an eye on him and he didn’t have a fever.

This is what belief in alternative medicine does. It inculcates magical thinking into medical decisions, as though “boosting the immune system” can take care of meningitis so easily, be it viral or bacterial. Indeed, if there was even a question whether it might be bacterial, it’s the height of folly even to consider anything other than real medicine to treat it. Now here is how this naturopath dealt with this problem:

Collet Stephan came in within a day or two of the call and spoke briefly to naturopathic Dr. Tracey Tannis, who asked Vataman to make up a tincture of echinacea.

“I told her the tincture was pretty strong and she said, ‘That’s OK, the baby is used to things like horseradish,”‘ Vataman said.

“I was quite surprised that a baby would be able to tolerate that.”

So it’s true that the naturopath prescribed a treatment for a potentially serious condition without seeing the patient. As I said last time, naturopaths want to function as primary care providers even though they are grossly unqualified. Well, one of the key attributes of a primary care doctor is responsibility, and responsibility mandates that a physician should not prescribe a treatment for a potentially serious disease without actually evaluating the patient by physical examination and, if indicated, appropriate diagnostic tests. Yet that’s exactly what Tannis apparently did. A key skill of a primary care provider is to know when to tell a patient to go to the emergency room.

This is what ultimately happened:

During an recorded interview on March 15, 2012, Collet Stephan told RCMP that Ezekiel’s body was too stiff to get him into his car seat. The couple put a mattress in the back of their vehicle to take him to the naturopath.

David Stephan told an officer during his interview that he and his wife had come up with a “game plan” to give Ezekiel additional natural remedies for meningitis and, if the treatment didn’t help, they would take him to a hospital.

Breathing wasn’t normal

Then his condition grew worse.

“All of a sudden his breathing wasn’t normal,” Collett Stephan told RCMP.

The Stephans called 911 and performed CPR on the toddler as they drove to meet an ambulance from a nearby community. The boy stopped breathing several times.

“He was blue by the time we met up with the ambulance,” Collet Stephan told a Mountie.

The child was hospitalized, but ultimately died. It was tragic, and potentially preventable if the child had been taken to a real doctor earlier.

Sadly, none of this seems to have sunk in. The parents appear to have gone on a PR offensive designed to build sympathy for them among the alternative health crowd. For instance, on Facebook, they are denying that they were trying to “boost the immune system” with maple syrup, juice and frozen fruit, but their reason why reveals how far the rabbit hole of quackery they’ve gone, as they declare that they would never have done anything so stupid because, essentially, “As all of these items contain high amounts of simple sugars, I would suspect that they would serve to feed viruses and bacteria and actually do the opposite of boosting the immune system.” Sugar doesn’t feed viruses and bacteria in infections.

Then, the Stephans hooked up with Erin Elizabeth of Health Nut News. You remember Elizabeth, don’t you? She’s uber-quack Joe Mercola’s girlfriend and runs a quack-friendly website that was one of the foremost promoters of the conspiracy theory that “somebody” is killing holistic doctors in order to…well, what Elizabeth never quite made clear. Not surprisingly, Elizabeth lapped it all up and published an article entitled The Real Story of the Parents on Trial for Their Son’s Death. Less surprisingly, she’s using the story of the Collets in order to spin a conspiracy theory:

Almost 4 years ago, the Stephan family experienced the tragic death of their son Ezekiel, just 18 months old at the time. Now, the Canadian government is prosecuting the parents, and the outcome of the trial could set a legal precedent that would have a devastating chilling effect on parental rights. David Stephan says that his family’s tragedy is being used to further an agenda that cannot be obtained by legislation under the Canadian Constitution, and the precedent could affect families all across Canada and even cross international borders.

And:

David and Collet Stephan have been charged with “failing to provide the necessities of life,” a charge that is similar to manslaughter, because they chose not to vaccinate their son. Even though there is no evidence that Ezekiel’s death would have been prevented if he were vaccinated, David says that the government of Canada has made it clear to the family that they intend to use the death of their son to accomplish an agenda. If successful, this could create a legal precedent through the courts, rather than through legislation, that would accomplish 2 things:

  1. Compel parents who have chosen not to vaccinate to seek traditional medical attention when their child gets sick sooner than parents who vaccinate, and
  2. Allow for criminal liability for parents if their non-vaccinated child suffers harm for any illness for which there is a vaccine.

Why is this relevant? If you believe Erin Elizabeth and David Collet, here’s why:

As they tried to put the pieces of their lives back together again, they received a copy of their son’s autopsy report 8 months after his death. Instead of a definitive answer to the cause of death, the report listed an “opinion,” with a heavy emphasis on the fact that Ezekiel was not immunized. The opinion was that he died from bacterial meningitis and an infection in his right lung. According to “a non-clinical research methodology,” haemophilus influenzae bacteria was identified in his body, but the particular strain was not cultured or identified. There are 6 strains; b is the most common, and b is the only strain for which there is a vaccine. Even so, haemophilus influenzae bacteria can be found in people who never have any illness from it.

Though the autopsy report contained some uncertainty about the cause of death, there was information in the report that seemed to indicate that Ezekiel’s death could have been prevented by a vaccine.

This raised a red flag in David Stephan’s mind that the issue of vaccines may come up later if anything ever went to court. His instincts were correct.

So here’s the problem. Autopsy reports often don’t use clear, declaratory language because they are based on science-based medicine and have to recognize the limitations of their techniques. I don’t know how it’s done in Canada, but that “opinion” might well be the conclusion of the coroner. What I see, even in the parents’ highly biased presentation, is a conclusion that the child probably had haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) meningitis and pneumonia. It’s a red herring to point out that there are six strains of Hib and that the vaccine only prevents type b. It’s also a red herring to claim that, just because haemophilus influenzae bacteria can be found on people who don’t become ill, then Hib didn’t kill Ezekiel. Yes, Hib can be isolated from the nasopharynx of 0.5-3.0% of normal infants. So what? It’s irrelevant to this case, because we have other information—a lot of other information. Children who die of Hib meningitis and pneumonia have rather obvious findings other than just the presence of the bacteria. There is purulence in the lungs; there is massive inflammation of the meninges (the membrane the lines the brain); there are signs of sepsis that can be identified on autopsy. Take those findings and then add the detection of the bacteria from various bodily fluids or especially from the brain, and these findings converge upon a probable diagnosis of Hib meningitis.

Then there’s the testimony of the coroner (hat tip to Chris Hickle for pointing this out in the comments; which was published late last night after I had gone to bed):

Medical examiner Dr. Bamidele Adeagbo told the court that in March 2012 baby Ezekiel was brain dead when EMS met up with the couple — who had started driving to meet the ambulance because the toddler stopped breathing.

Adeagbo said paramedics’ attempts to revive the child for seven to eight minutes were not the reason he became brain dead.

He stated the toddler was already brain dead when EMS first saw the child. He went on to say the brain acts differently when it has a lack of oxygen, compared to when it’s reacting to meningitis.

And:

Earlier Thursday, Adeagbo testified he performed the autopsy on March 19, 2012 and determined the cause of death to be bacterial meningitis and empyema, an infection of the lungs.

Adeagbo said symptoms of meningitis can come and go, and show more or less severity over the time of the illness. He compared the rise and fall of severity of symptoms to a roller coaster; meaning they can spike and drop over a period of time. For instance, he explained the patient could have a fever one day, then it would be gone the next day and it could return again.

So Ezekiel died of bacterial meningitis, probably due to Hib, although this wasn’t conclusively shown. It had been long neglected, and Ezekiel deteriorated over a period of several days. We already know that at one point when the parents put him in the car his neck was so stiff that they couldn’t get him into a car seat. Of course, Hib is a vaccine-preventable disease, and David and Collet Stephan didn’t vaccinate Ezekiel. So when David claims there is no evidence that the Hib vaccine could potentially have prevented Ezekiel’s death, he is just plain wrong. There’s plenty of evidence that this was probably Hib meningitis. Moreover, the coroner’s testimony makes me very much doubt all the testimony from the parents that Ezekiel didn’t look all that sick almost right up until he stopped breathing. That’s some mighty serious pathology the coroner described in his testimony. While it’s certainly possible (albeit unlikely) that Ezekiel looked a whole lot better than his pathology would lead one to believe, the persistence of his symptoms over a long period of time should have been a cue to take him to a real doctor.

Perhaps that’s why the Stephans, with Erin Elizabeth’s help, is spreading a conspiracy theory. He and his wife aren’t negligent parents, says the conspiracy theory. Not at all! They’re being persecuted by the Canadian government as part of a plot to produce a legal precedent that would allow the Canadian government to do away with voluntary vaccination and force children to be vaccinated. Now that’s a seriously grandiose view of oneself, I’d say! The Collets seem to think that it’s all about them, rather than their dead child, and that they are so important that the government would use them as an example in order to—gasp!—force every child to be vaccinated:

And the situation that Collet and I find ourselves in, is that there is an organization that is attempting to offer our family up on the sacrificial altar of the vaccine industry.

No, The situation that the Stephan’s son found himself is was that he was offered up on the sacrificial altar of his parent’s quack beliefs.