Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Last Day of the Rest of Your Life

Can anything be worse than the pain of losing a child?

Personally, I feel like I know a bit about grief and mourning lately. But I can't even imagine, can't even begin to fathom, the pain of losing a child. It's beyond me.

I know of parents who have survived that kind of loss. Who have, in fact, not just survived (which I am afraid might well be beyond my capabilities) but even thrived, managing to transform that tragedy into something amazingly beautiful. Something that helps other children and their families. I am honoured and humbled to count such people amongst my friends.

But imagine not just losing your child. Not just. Like that could not possibly be hard enough. Imagine being accused of killing your child. Imagine being convicted and sentenced for your child's death. Imagine spending the past 14 years in prison.

For killing your child. Incarcerated for 14 years. As you mourn the loss of your child's life. And the loss of your own. Because you know what no one else seems to recognize. That you, too, are an innocent victim. That you could never, you would never, you did not harm your child.

That, you, yourself, are the innocent victim of someone else. The pediatric pathologist from hell.
On Thursday, 14 years after being convicted of killing her two-year-old son, Marquardt was granted bail.

Though the courts haven’t yet decided if they’ll hear her appeal, Marquardt was beaming after being released.

"Today I finally have my day," Marquardt said outside the Ontario Court of Appeal, struggling to catch her breath through her tears. "This is my day. I’m out. I made it."

She was the last known parent who remained behind bars based on the testimony of Dr. Charles Smith. Marquardt was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of her son Kenneth and was handed a life sentence in 1995.

She said she found the boy tangled in his bedsheets, but Smith said he was mothered or strangled.

Marquardt’s lawyer James Lockyer said not only did she not kill her son, but no crime was ever committed. Kenneth had seven documented trips to hospital for seizures, Lockyer said.

Smith’s findings have since been rejected by six forensic experts, including one who said the epileptic boy could have died from a seizure.

"Pathology can no longer determine the cause of Kenneth’s death," Lockyer said outside court.

"There’s every reason to believe that he died as a result of seizures that he’d suffered from all his life."
SUDEP, or Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy, is not only a tragedy, but also, exactly what it says.

The sudden. Unexplained. Death. Of a person with epilepsy. Often in their sleep. Uusally without any evidence of a seizure having occurred. But then again, if the person was asleep (and alone), who would know for sure whether or not there had been a seizure?

It's not something that's talked about a whole lot. Not information that many parents of children who experience seizures are made privy to. 'No need to upset them. To scare them. About, you know, something that will never likely happen', the thinking goes.

Not that common, perhaps. But SUDEP does account for 10% of all epilepsy-related deaths. Admittedly, 85% of these fatalities occur between the ages of 20-50 years. Still, the incidence of SUDEP stands at approximately 1 in 1000 people with epilepsy per year which is at least 10 times of the sudden death rate found in the general population. Which means that if you have a diagnosis of epilepsy, you are TEN TIMES more likely to have "Sudden Death".

Yeah. That's what I said.

Perhaps that's what happened to Tammy Marquardt's little boy. Perhaps it was something else. But either way, it appears that there was no credible evidence that his mother was at fault.

I can only wish her well, hope that her legal troubles are soon over and offer her my deepest sympathies, both for the loss of her child and for the past 14 years. And struggle with the realization that yes, there is something worse than losing your child. That would be losing your child and then being accused of and convicted for his murder.

And as to the other tragedies in this story, the life of a two-year-old little boy snuffed out and the higher risk of death for persons with epilepsy ... I can only offer this.

Thursday, March 26th is Purple Day.

Which I will be blogging more about soon. But as a recent slogan I've seen says so well ...

"A cure may be found someday.
But someone needs your help today".

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