Life / Technology

'All he needed was antibiotics:' Boy who died from strep lived in squalor

CALGARY — A seven-year-old boy who died from a treatable strep infection three years ago lived in squalor and was treated with dandelion tea and oil of oregano instead of antibiotics, a trial heard Monday.

Tamara Lovett, 47, is charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life and with criminal negligence causing the death of her son. Ryan Alexander Lovett died in March 2013 after getting a strep infection that kept him bedridden for 10 days.

Prosecutor Jonathan Hak said in his opening arguments in a Calgary courtroom that the family lived off the grid in a dark, dirty apartment. The boy's birth had never been registered.

An autopsy revealed the boy had contracted Group A streptococcus infection and pneumonia. The official cause of death was sepsis which brought on multi-organ failure.

Hak said Ryan's heart was infected, he had meningitis and his immune system was exhausted. He could fight no more.

"In short, Ryan was dead," Hak said.

He said Lovett would not take the boy to a doctor, even though a friend had recommended it the day before Lovett called 911. 

"She did not believe in conventional medicine or doctors," said Hak. "She was, of course, proven wrong when hours later, Ryan died in her apartment.

"All he needed was antibiotics."

In a 911 call played in court, a frantic Lovett said her son was "breathing funny" and, after answering questions from the operator, said he had stopped breathing altogether.

At one point, she could be heard crying "Ryan, Ryan" as the operator tried to coach her on doing CPR.

Lovett reached for a box of tissue while the call was being played. Her head was down; her shoulders were shaking.

Teresa Coulter was one of the first emergency medical technicians to arrive and said paramedics were greeted by a woman who was very upset.

She said the basement apartment was dark and smelled strongly of marijuana. Ryan was lying on the floor.

"He appeared to be lifeless," said Coulter. "He was cold to touch."

She said the apartment was cluttered and it was difficult to get equipment inside. A second ambulance was called to provide backup.

Coulter's partner, Valerie Hopwood, said Ryan looked frail and non-responsive. He was not breathing and there were no signs of life.

"He looked ... like a sick little boy," she said.

Ryan was pronounced dead at the hospital.

A Calgary police officer who interviewed Lovett said she indicated her son had been sick for a couple of weeks with pain in his leg, groin and upper arm. She said he got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and collapsed.

Const. Kevin Lisowski took Lovett to hospital and spoke briefly with her before they were told Ryan had died.

"She was very distraught. She was taken in to view the body and she spent some time with him," he said.

"She sobbed uncontrollably for a while, as you can imagine."

Lisowski said he didn't consider Lovett to be a suspect, but that changed after concerns from the physician in charge.

"Ryan had a deformed shoulder and arm," Lisowski said. "He had some bruising about the ears as well and appeared emaciated."

Det. Robert Martel was in the trauma room when Lovett came in to see her son's body.

He said she spoke to her son.

"I'm sorry. I failed you. I didn't do enough," Martel recalled her saying.

He said that Lovett was crying, but there were no tears.

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