Little girl’s brain injury will be life-long, doctor tells step-dad’s aggravated assault trial

Exterior pics of the Calgary Courts Centre in Calgary on Monday, August 10, 2020.

The traumatic brain injury suffered by a young Calgary child allegedly at the hands of her stepfather will be with her for the rest of her life, a child maltreatment expert testified Tuesday.

But Dr. Jennifer MacPherson said the little girl, now 6, has made progress since she was initially rendered wheelchair-bound following the March 11, 2018 incident.

“(She) has a life-long disability,” said MacPherson, one of a team of doctors who dealt with the child after she was rushed to Alberta Children’s Hospital and underwent brain surgery for a subdural haematoma.

“A pediatric brain has a good chance to regenerate,” MacPherson told the aggravated assault trial of Tyler Eugene Laberge.

“We did not think (she) would survive the night,” the doctor said of the then-4-year-old’s initial prognosis.

“She will continue to make gains, but she has a permanent brain injury.”

MacPherson told Crown prosecutor Pam McCluskey it was her opinion the cause of the girl’s most severe injury was the result of an intentional act.

“The likelihood, in my opinion, that (the child) suffered an inflicted injury is very high.”

She said multiple bruises to the child’s face and other parts of her body supported that finding.

MacPherson said a short fall of less than four feet, or a “simple” fall that didn’t involve striking multiple objects, or involve rotational motion, wouldn’t be expected to cause such a “catastrophic” injury.

“Falling down the stairs, hitting your head multiple times as you go down would not be considered a simple fall,” she said, in determining the likelihood of a simple fall causing the child’s wounds “very low.”

“A simple, short fall is unlikely to result in this type of injury.”

But the doctor could not quantify the force necessary to cause the child’s brain wound.

“Can we say definitively the exact force? … No,” she told McCluskey.

“To have a massive head injury that’s life-threatening clearly requires more force.”


Under cross-examination she told defence lawyer Matt Deshaye it was still possible, but unlikely, a simple fall was to blame.

“Simple falls of less than four feet rarely cause this type of subdural haematoma,” MacPherson said.

She said x-rays and a CT-scan showed no sign of a near drowning as they didn’t indicate water in the child’s lungs.

But she conceded a notation on a medical chart she hadn’t seen before referring to a chest sound crackle “could be” indicative of a drowning incident.

Laberge told the child’s mother and police that he was attending to his own infant daughter when he heard a loud bang as his stepdaughter bathed and found her face down in the tub.

His trial continues on Wednesday.

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