CALGARY — A dermatologist has testified at the trial of a couple charged in the death of their 14-month-old son that a rash covering the child’s body when he was brought to hospital was likely from a nutritional deficiency, not eczema.
Jeromie and Jennifer Clark have pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide the necessaries of life for their son John.
Their trial has already heard from emergency and intensive care doctors that John had some black toes, an abnormally low body temperature and was covered in a rash thought to be eczema when his parents took him to a Calgary hospital on Nov. 28, 2013.
Dermatologist Laurie Parsons, whom the Crown called Tuesday as an expert witness, said she did not treat the boy, but saw post-mortem photographs and an autopsy report.
She said the rash had an unusual whirling pattern with sharp demarcations between parts that were normal and abnormal — as if looking at a coastline on a map.
“I cannot say whether this child ever had eczema or not. A child with eczema’s fairly common,” she said. “But this is certainly not the pattern of childhood eczema.”
When prosecutor Shane Parker asked Parsons what skin condition she thought John had, she replied: “All of his skin issues were secondary to nutritional deficiencies.”
She said it usually takes weeks for skin to reach that state. Sometimes the skin blisters and separates, allowing bacteria in.
John died the day after he was admitted into intensive care at the Alberta Children’s Hospital of what was later determined to be a staph infection.
Parsons said John also seemed to have orange-yellow hair that would cause most dermatologists to wonder about a nutritional deficiency. She admitted under cross-examination that it would have been better to see John first-hand rather than in a photograph.
Parsons testified that had she seen John as a patient, she would have been concerned.
“I would have been very suspicious why this baby looked like this, that he did have a nutritional deficiency,” she said.
“My first thing would have been to send him directly to emergency, have him admitted and have child protection services involved.”
Jeromie Clark’s defence lawyer, David Chow, interrupted Parsons to object. He said her comments on child protective services were outside of her expertise. Parker concurred and Justice Paul Jeffrey ordered jurors to disregard the remark.
Parker asked Parsons what medication she would have given to John, but she replied no topical cream would have helped. She said she would have tried to figure out what nutrient he was lacking and then feed him through an intravenous or nasal-gastric tube.
Under cross-examination by Chow, Parsons confirmed she did not see any of John’s blood work and that she never actually saw the baby.
John Phillips, Jennifer Clark’s lawyer, asked Parsons whether she based her opinion on the pathologist’s report and whether she challenged it.
“It all fit with the clinical picture,” she testified.
The trial also heard testimony from Det. Shelley Dunn, who took photographs of the Clark home three days after John’s death.
Jurors were shown photos of books having to do with nutrition and how to look after babies and toddlers. There were also photographs of the inside of the refrigerator and of cupboards stocked with food, including fruits and vegetables, as well as with vitamins and supplements.
Jennifer Clark dabbed at her eyes with a tissue as Dunn testified she saw no photos of John or his siblings in the home.