3 Oct 2008

Mother denies negligence in baby case

The Toronto Star - October 2, 2008

Charged with obstructing peace officer at hospital, mom of underweight infant talks about her ordeal

| Star reporter

An empty stroller, an unused tricycle and a pile of toys that haven't moved out of the corner in nearly two weeks.
They are painful reminders for a young mother who lost custody of her two sons after a standoff with officials at a hospital, where she reportedly denied treatment for her severely malnourished 9-month-old, who weighed just 11 pounds.
But, she says, contrary to media reports, she never refused medical attention and insists that belonging to an obscure Moorish-American religious sect that promotes a holistic lifestyle played no role in the events that culminated with her being charged.
"It's been an emotional roller coaster," she said this week, after a visit at the Children's Aid Society with her boys, who are in foster homes. "When I see them it's great, but the reality is I don't get to bring them home where they belong," she said, adding the baby is doing well and gaining weight.
In her first interview since her arrest at the Hospital for Sick Children, the 22-year-old woman said she's been unfairly portrayed as a negligent mother. Neither she nor her boyfriend can be named to protect the identities of their baby and 2-year-old son.
"Why would I have taken my son to the hospital if I was against treatment? It doesn't make sense," she said, while looking at photos of her baby stored in a digital camera, and trying to figure out why her life has unravelled over the past few weeks.
The mother, who describes herself as a fish-eating vegan, said a homeopathic doctor diagnosed her infant with eczema and advised her to cut various foods from her already restrictive diet. But the baby's rash didn't disappear, so she weaned him off breast milk and on to different baby formulas, with little success.
"I could see he was losing weight because he was refusing food," she recalled, adding she took the baby to the hospital to determine what he was deficient in.
She says she allowed staff to run a battery of tests and keep him overnight. But when she learned they wanted to call CAS, she panicked and fled, setting off a police search that garnered headlines.
When pressed about why she fled, given her baby had been diagnosed with severe malnutrition, she said: "Technically, everyone's malnourished, no one is getting their full nutritional requirements."
She says she returned to the hospital, accompanied by her boyfriend and a friend, four days later because the media was reporting the baby had only days to live.
Again, she permitted the baby to be examined and said that while the doctor was determining the next plan of action, police moved in to arrest her for obstructing a peace officer. She claims she did nothing to provoke the arrest and it was never explained to her why she was being charged.
Her boyfriend and friend were also charged. The three are out on bail and scheduled to return to court on Oct. 16.
The detective in charge of the case could not be reached for comment yesterday but during the arrests, authorities said the couple was reluctant to hand the baby over to staff. Hospital spokesperson Judith John said staff acted appropriately.
The story took on a religious dimension when the boyfriend told a reporter he was refusing intrusive treatment for religious reasons. And it intensified when the grand sheik of the Moorish Science Temple of America spoke out in defence of the couple and of homeopathic remedies.
"This isn't a religious thing," said the mother, who insisted she's not devout, despite sporting a button on her lapel in support of Moorish-Americans.
"I do not oppose conventional medical treatments – both of my sons were born in a hospital and I have a family doctor," she said. "I brought him to the (hospital). There's no way I could refuse treatment if I'm bringing him there.
"I want my sons back, I need my sons back and I'll do whatever it takes to get them back."
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