'Simple penicillin' could have saved boy, Calgary doctor testifies at mother's trial

For 14 minutes, doctors and nurses at the Alberta Children’s Hospital tried to revive a cold, yellowed boy who had no signs of life. 

But Ryan Lovett was already dead.

The seven-year-old had developed an “overwhelming blood infection,” according to medical examiner Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim, who testified in a Calgary court on Tuesday.

His mother, Tamara Lovett, is on trial for failing to provide the necessaries of life and criminal negligence causing death, for Ryan’s death on March 3, 2013.

The boy ultimately died of a Group A strep infection, doctors say.

On that day in March 2013, paramedics who responded to Lovett’s apartment on 17th Avenue S.W. had called ahead to the hospital to alert staff that Ryan was unconscious, in cardiac arrest, had no pulse and was not breathing.

“I was essentially expecting him to be dead,” said Dr. Jennifer D’Mello, a pediatric emergency medicine expert who also testified Tuesday, on the second day of the trial.

When he arrived, D’Mello testified that Ryan was cold to the touch. She declared him dead at 5:54 a.m.

No drugs in child’s system

The next day, Brooks-Lim performed an autopsy on the boy.

There was no evidence of Tylenol or Advil in his body, said Brooks-Lim.

Instead, Lovett treated him with dandelion tea and oil of oregano, according to Crown prosecutor Jonathan Hak.

Hak said the child was deteriorating for 10 days, until the day before his death when he was “in considerable pain.” He had slurred speech, and his organs had begun to shut down.

Brooks-Lim said those symptoms aligned with her findings, and suggested that Ryan was deteriorating for days leading up to his death.

“This is not something that occurred in minutes or hours,” said Brooks-Lim.

“It was my opinion that this child died from an overwhelming sepsis due to a Group A streptococcus and parainfluenza virus infection.”

She said Ryan also had meningitis infecting the covering of his brain.

Ryan’s death was preventable: doctor

Dr. Taj Jadavji, who authored a report for trial, using medical and autopsy reports, as well as witness statements from police and paramedics, said the child’s death was preventable.

He said the bacteria in Group A strep is easily treated with “a very simple penicillin.”

“You could have prevented the death of this child,” said Jadavji. 

“Dandelion tea or oil of oregano have never been shown to treat streptococcus.”

‘We are living in the real world’

In his last two weeks of life, Ryan lost nearly 10 pounds, according his mother, who gave a statement to police. He weighed 46 pounds, placing him in the 25th percentile for boys his age at the time of death.

The child’s weight loss alone should have been alarming enough to bring him to a doctor, said Jadavji.

“If somebody cannot recognize that, well then there is a problem there.”

Defence lawyer Alain Hepner put hypotheticals to Jadavji, indicating where defence is likely heading with its case.

Hepner suggested Ryan’s health rapidly declined, and it may have appeared as if the child had a simple flu.

But the infectious disease specialist said it would have been clear based on certain symptoms that the child was in need of medical intervention.

“Ryan’s mother did not recognize how sick he was and she did not provide him with the adequate care.”

“They can believe lots of things … we are living in the real world.”

Ryan Lovett’s father surfaces

Ryan’s biological father, who last saw his son when the boy was three-and-a-half years old, contacted a number of media outlets on Tuesday.

Brian Jerome moved from Alberta to Hamilton, Ont., in 2009 to work as a painter and general contractor. At the time of Ryan’s death, he was working on getting back into the child’s life, he says.

Jerome says he found out on Facebook about his son’s death.

“I hit the floor, it just devastated me.”

Though Jerome moved to Airdrie earlier this year, he says he has not attended the trial because he’s worried he’ll get angry and end up in jail.

“It’s just been a really hard, rough seven years from the last time I seen him until today.”

Asked if he would have taken his son to a doctor, Jerome said there’s a “time and a place” for traditional medicine.

“One thing that really bothers me is people are using this to bash natural medicine.”

The Court of Queen’s Bench trial is being presided over by Justice Kristine Eidsvik and is set for two weeks.

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