Producers behind a controversial documentary alleging a link between the MMR vaccine and autism took to Facebook to encourage people to support David and Collet Stephan, a Lethbridge couple found guilty in the 2012 meningitis death of their 18-month-old son in April.
In a video watched over 33,000 times since it was posted Monday, producers Polly Tommey and Del Bigtree interviewed the Stephans, asking them to describe who they were and how they saw the trial. They also called on the public to support the couple ahead of Thursday’s sentencing hearing and stand up against what Bigtree called an “incredible lying machine.”
“We’ve been branded as the ‘meningitis Lethbridge trial’ that’s been aired internationally,” David Stephan says at the start of the video. “It’s becoming quite a parental rights issue for medical choice, for how we need to treat our children.
“Ultimately it comes down to whether we have the right to vaccinate or not vaccinate without being held liable… or whether or not we have to rush our children to the doctor every time they even get just the sniffles in fear that something may just randomly happen and then we’re held liable.”
Watch below: Global’s coverage of the trial of David and Collet Stephan
Ezekiel Stephan died of meningitis in March 2012 at the Children’s Hospital in Calgary; his parents were charged 11 months later with failing to provide the necessaries of life. David and Collet testified they believed Ezekiel was suffering from croup or the flu, so they treated him with remedies that included hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish.
“We were treating our child with different homeopathic remedies, different herbal remedies like tens of thousands of people do, nothing out of the ordinary. He wasn’t severely ill and then everything just came to a crash on an evening and ended up in an ambulance that didn’t have the right equipment and subsequently ended up brain dead.”
Paramedic Kenneth Cherniawsky, who met David and Collet along the side of the highway on their way to hospital when they said their son stopped breathing, testified the ambulance was not equipped with the right sized bag valve mask, so they put in an endotracheal tube, which was also not the right size. However, air was moving into the child, making his chest rise and fall. He said Ezekiel’s condition did not change from when the ambulance arrived to when he got to the hospital.
Cherniawsky said he had requested the masks be restocked, but the request was never filled.
“The ambulance that ended up taking our son off our hands, after he was getting CPR for a little while while we were in transit, did not have the proper equipment,” David tells Bigtree and Tommey in the video. “So he went for over eight minutes without any oxygen whatsoever, which is what was found to be the cause of brain death.”
Medical examiner told court Ezekiel was brain dead before EMS arrived
Court heard Ezekiel was taken to the Alberta Children’s Hospital where doctors detected little brain activity and was taken off life support on March 18, 2012.
However, medical examiner Dr. Bamidele Adeagbo told the court that 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 said the brain acts differently when it has a lack of oxygen, compared to when it’s reacting to meningitis.
According to Adeagbo, when he examined the child’s brain there were no signs that it was a lack of oxygen. He said Ezekiel was dead before EMS intervened. Three other doctors from the Alberta Children’s Hospitals agreed with Adeagbo.
He ruled Ezekiel died of bacterial meningitis, empyema and a lung infection.
Stephans’ sentencing set for Thursday and Friday in Lethbridge
In the Facebook interview, David says they’re hoping supporters will come to the Lethbridge courthouse Friday at 10 a.m. on the second day of the couple’s sentencing, “wearing blue jeans and white shirts.” He asked for people to send letters with signatures and addresses to “Prayers for Ezekiel” on Facebook, so they can be “used in court to show that this is not in the public interest.”
The maximum sentence for failing to provide the necessaries of life is five years in jail –a sentence David said would be difficult to explain to his three other children.
“It’s a hard thing to try to communicate that to a three-year-old and a one-year-old as to why mommy and daddy won’t be around anymore,” he said in the video as Collet looks down and cries. “Our eight-year-old is already somewhat understanding of the issue and is already taking it quite badly.”
‘Vaxxed’ doc screening in Calgary
Bigtree and Tommey were in Calgary to promote their documentary, Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe, which was disinvited from the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary alleges a cover-up by the America Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Watch below: Producers Polly Tommey and Del Bigtree join Global Calgary with details on a controversial documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe, which was disinvited from the Tribeca Film Festival.
The documentary is screening at Calgary’s Plaza Theatre June 17 until June 23. The theatre was not open when Global News requested comment on the decision to show the film.
“We’re all surrounding you in prayers and love,” Bigtree tells the Stephans in the Facebook video. “There’s a whole world out here and we’re all rooting for you.”
Doctors and scientists have repeatedly said vaccines are safe and effective. Research in the 1990s that pointed to a link between autism and vaccines has been retracted.
“You may be focused on the risk of getting the shot but there’s also the risk of not getting the shot. You or your child could get measles,” graduate student Zachary Horne said in a past interview.
Horne, and his psychology professor Dr. John Hummel, collaborated on the study with findings that were published in August 2015 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We found that directing people’s attention to the risks posed by not getting vaccinated, like getting measles, mumps and rubella, and the complications associated with those diseases, changed people’s attitudes positively towards vaccination – and that was for even the most skeptical participants in the study,” Horne noted.
“Actually, the largest effect sizes were for people who were most skeptical,” he said.
With files from Global’s Quinn Campbell, Phil Heidenreich and Carmen Chai