Baby in faith-healing case should have survived, neonatologist testifies

A pediatrician who specializes in newborns and premature infants testified Monday that David Hickman would have survived if his parents had called for help.

Steve Mayes reports in the Oregonian:

David was born two months prematurely and lived less than nine hours.

The baby’s parents, Dale and Shannon Hickman, who belong to an Oregon City church that practices faith healing, prayed for their son and anointed him with oil but did not seek medical intervention. They are charged with second-degree manslaughter.

The Hickmans took “a real and avoidable risk” with their child’s life, Dr. Joseph Kaempf, a neonatologist and prosecution witness, said Monday in Clackamas County Circuit Court.

Kaempf said that of the almost 1,100 infants born two months early and treated at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, 11 died. And none died from respiratory distress, which took David’s life.


Kaempf also criticized conclusions reached by the state medical examiner, Dr. Clifford Nelson, who conducted David Hickman’s autopsy.

The Hickmans are charged with manslaughter.

They are members of the Followers of Christ Church, an Oregon City congregation that believes in faith-healing over medical care.

The church’s extreme faith healing beliefs and practices have left a trail of dead children in its wake.

Theologically the church is considered to be a cult of Christianity.

KATU News says

In addition to Kaempf, the state also called deputy medical examiner Cliff Nelson to the stand. Nelson determined the infant died from underdeveloped lungs and sepsis which is basically bacteria in the bloodstream.

“Manifestations of sepsis can occur very quickly and it can kill very quickly,” he said.

But the jury saw a bit of disagreement between the state’s two witnesses over what killed the baby. Kaempf said part of Nelson’s conclusion was wrong.

“This baby did not die of sepsis, so that’s an erroneous statement by the coroner,” he said.

Kaempf said, in his opinion, David’s bacterial infection came from spoon-feeding that were attempts to give him milk at his grandmother’s house where he was born.

“In a hospital, a baby would never be spoon-fed or bottle fed at 31, 32 weeks,” he said.

The jury won’t hear what the deputy medical examiner told detectives, which was that the case was a witch hunt from the start. The judge barred that comment from coming up at trial, saying it was Nelson’s personal opinion and irrelevant.

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016