PSA: Maple Syrup Will Not Cure Your Baby's Swollen Brains Because It Is Not Medicine

Welcome welcome! It's time once more for the Snake Oil Bulletin. Today we present a Special Edition of the Bulletin, with a very specific, important message: Please, for the love of all things holy, GIVE YOUR CHILDREN REAL HONKING MEDICINE PLZ THANK YOU.

The couple pictured above, Collett and David Stephan, were happy Mormon hippies living in southern Alberta with their 19-month-old son, Ezekiel. Then one day in 2012, their toddler came down with what the couple initially thought was croup. Naturally-minded couple that they were, the Stephans decided to treat little Ezekiel without any of that pesky "medicine" or "modern science" or "basic human reasoning skills":

The trial in Lethbridge has been told that the couple first thought the boy had croup and treated him with natural remedies and homemade smoothies containing hot pepper, ginger root, horseradish and onion.

Turns out Ezekiel actually had viral meningitis, something the couple would have known had they taken him to a doctor (you'll notice a trend in this story). While the couple appears to be against vaccines, the meningococcal vaccine available in 2012 was not generally given to children until they were eleven years old. In 2015, a a meningococcal B vaccine for babies was added to vaccination schedules. These vaccines protect against bacterial meningitis (the nastier version of the disease) so we can't exactly blame the Stephans for not vaccinating Ezekiel in this one instance. What we CAN blame them for, however, is what happened next: the couple took the kid to a naturopath. For an "immune boost."

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.

Leaving aside the idiocy of being paid to "fill holisitic prescriptions at a naturopathic clinic" -- you need a prescription to buy patchouli? -- what followed was some next level quackery. The naturopath prescribed something for Ezekiel, without even seeing him:

In the interview [with police], [Collett Stephan] said about two weeks prior, her son had a runny nose, fever and was having trouble breathing. She said she looked up his symptoms online and thought it might be croup (a respiratory infection). She then began giving him as much natural product as possible. She said he started to improve for a few days, but then became weak and lethargic again.

Collett said she called a registered nurse to come check his condition, who suggested it may be meningitis.

Collett said she and David visited a naturopathic doctor in Lethbridge who gave them a treatment for viral meningitis, but never actually examined Ezekiel.

It only got worse after the not-doctor didn't even pretend to examine the sick baby. The family took Ezekiel home, at which point he stopped breathing entirely:

The parents gave Ezekiel the [naturopathic] treatment and Collet told RCMP they saw improvement right away, but after a nap he woke up and didn’t seem as alert.

He quit breathing, prompting Collet to start CPR. David called 911, and the couple started to drive to meet the ambulance. Collet said he quit breathing a few times during the drive and started to turn blue. The couple then met the ambulance and the paramedics took over.

But what of that friend and nurse Stephan spoke of earlier? She's speaking of family friend Terrie Meynders, an actual RN, whom the family contacted after Ezekiel fell asleep in the bathtub just a few days prior. Did we mention that

Ezekiel had been sick for TWO weeks beforehand, and that this was the first time the family contacted anyone with any medical training? Are you beginning to see the problems here?

The RN testified that when she arrived at the Stephans’ home, Ezekiel was sleeping. Without waking him, she gave him an exam, checking his physical appearance and listening to his lungs, but nothing appeared abnormal, she said. She suggested to Collet it could be meningitis and said, “I have no idea what it could be and I think you should take him to a doctor.”

Meynders also said she was there as a friend to give her opinion, not to diagnose Ezekiel. She said it didn’t jump out to her that he was seriously ill and he didn’t appear to be that sick.

So after everyone, from the nurse to the fake pharmacist, asked the family to take the baby to a freaking doctor, the couple still decided the best route was nap time and tincture of echinacea they received from the naturopath. Later that day Ezekiel stopped breathing. His body went so stiff the parents had to lay him down flat in their car because he couldn't bend to sit in his car seat. The family met up with an ambulance team who tried to save him, before putting him on an an airlift to rush him to a hospital. He was kept on life support for five days before being disconnected. He passed later that day.

In 2013, Crown prosecutors filed formal charges against the Stephans for failing to provide for their child -- mnot murder, but basically death through neglect. The Crown is also weighing removing the Stephan's other three children from their custody if they cannot demonstrate that they'll provide adequate medical coverage in the future. The parents have pleaded not guilty but it wasn't until just this past week that witness testimony began.

The Stephans' story has been picked up by just about every source from the reputable to the quacking. Forbes contributor Dr. Arthur Caplan, Director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, comes down harshly against the parents and argues the necessity of the trial:

The point of the trial is not to punish the Stephans. It is to show that in Canada, and in the U.S. as well, parents who have a very sick child have a duty to take them to a doctor or a hospital. There can be no tolerance, none, for unproven quackery when it comes to a child who can’t breathe for days and days, is too stiff to sit in a car or who has pounding headaches for weeks. Society must insist that a very sick child be brought not to a naturopath, but to a licensed physician who can diagnose and treat childhood illness. [...]

If you are an adult and choose to use this menagerie of nonsense to maintain your health you are free to do so. But you cannot use make-believe on a child who cannot choose to get proven medical interventions over their parent’s reliance on mumbo-jumbo.

Natural-cure quacks like ones at Stand4Truth paint the medical examiner who autopsied Ezekiel as a shill in cahoots with the big bad gubmint, accusing him of using too many big words:

Today, the doctor embellished his previous answers with several long and complex jargonistic lectures that would dull even the sharpest mind.

Rule of thumb for all you readers: if a website has "Truth" in the title, it doesn't have truth in the content.

Then there are the REAL quacks like those young-earth-creationist anti-vaxxer Minitru thugs at Health Impact News who believe the case is all a big conspiiiiiracy against the Stephans to martyr them on the blood altar of Canada's Big Vaccine Moloch Idol. This is ridiculous; Canadian law clearly states human sacrifices are only to be used to summon sexy Prime Ministers.

Naturally (ha! ha!) the Stephans themselves have spoken out about the case, setting up their own Facebook page, "Prayers for Ezekiel," and at one point had a GoFundMe page so their holistic supporters could pay for all their legal expenses, but the GoFundMe has since been taken down.

In a post dated March 8, David Stephan himself tries to clear up a few misunderstandings and distortions the press seem to be spreading.

First of all, the couple does not run a quack supplement company that markets a pill they literally claim increases brain power. That'd be fucking crazy. David Stephan merely works for a quack supplement company that markets a pill they literally claim increases brain power. The upstanding citizens at Truehope Nutritional Support Inc. were particularly quick to distance themselves from David, insisting that he is merely an employee and not in any management position. Isn't it sweet when charlatans are so quick to turn on their own?

And while the headlines about a Canadian couple using maple syrup to heal a babby are ha-ha hi-LAR-ious because Canada, eh? What's that aboot, eh? David is quick to dismiss any such Canadian yuck-yucks because come ON people:

This is a major misrepresentation and has led other news articles to use the headlines of “A Baby Died After His Parents Allegedly Tried To Cure His Meningitis With Syrup”. First off, anyone in their right mind would see how ridiculous this is, and if it wasn’t such a serious matter, it would be laughable. The idea of boosting an immune system with maple syrup, juice and frozen fruit is so illogical that I am left here shaking my head. 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.

Right, the problem with feeding the baby condiments for meningitis was all that sugar. It's not the fact that IT ISN'T FUCKING MEDICINE. Jesus.

We'll wrap up by imploring all our readers to take your assorted babes and babbies to REAL doctors. Do not feed them horseradish medicine, do not take them to naturopaths, do not pass GO, and do not wait two weeks to call a freaking MD. Please take care of yourselves and your children, and don't let people who practice this kind of quackery harm their children. Sadly, you're not the ones who need to hear it.

[CBC / Kids Health / / Global News / NYU Lagone Medical Center / Metro News / Stand 4 Truth / Health Impact News / Facebook / Forbes]


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