An Australian couple who pleaded guilty to causing their young daughter serious injury after she was found severely malnourished kept the toddler hidden from neighbors, who didn’t even know she existed.
The girl’s mother and father, aged 32 and 34 respectively, pleaded guilty this month and will be sentenced in January 2019. The couple had not been identified, Australian and United Kingdom media reported, citing strict laws in Australia.
Officials said the parents fed the girl a diet so extreme that she developed rickets.
“Rickets is the softening and weakening of bones in children, usually because of an extreme and prolonged vitamin D deficiency,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the gastrointestinal tract. A deficiency of vitamin D makes it difficult to maintain proper calcium and phosphorus levels in bones, which can cause rickets.”
Neighbors told police officers that they thought the family only had two boys and were unaware of the third child.
The girl had no medical records after leaving the hospital in 2016 after being born in good condition, as her parents refused to take her to doctors.
The girl was finally admitted to the hospital 19 months later after suffering a seizure at the family’s home in Sydney.
While at the hospital, the girl’s mother informed doctors that her family followed a vegan diet. Veganism involves not eating animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs.
The mother said her daughter would typically eat one cup of oats with rice milk and half a banana for breakfast and a piece of toast with jam or peanut butter for lunch.
The family typically prepared tofu, rice, or potatoes for dinner but the girl was a “fussy eater” so she may have had oats again for the evening meal, reported the Daily Mail.
The extreme diet resulted in severe deficiencies of a number of nutrients, including vitamin D, vitamin A, and iron.
Her vitamin D levels, in particular, were undetectable, doctors said. Vitamin D is typically obtained from spending time outdoors in the sun and by eating certain foods, including fish oils, egg yolks, and some fruit juices, the latter having had vitamin D added in many cases.
"Vegan diet resulted in severe nutrient deficiencies for the toddler, including lack of calcium, phosphate, vitamin B12, vitamin A, iron and zinc."https://t.co/nOTsYTiWbd
— Kristen Hovet (@kristenhovet) December 25, 2018
Doctors told the court that the girl’s bones were so brittle from the lack of nutrients that they could have been broken by “normal handling” and that they found fractures throughout her small body, reported Metro. The child weighed only 10 pounds.
One doctor said that the 1-year-old was never seen crawling or talking during her one-month stay at the hospital.
Hospital staff initially respected the family’s vegan diet but grew concerned when the mother banned soy.
The girl’s father told officers during the investigation that he thought nothing was wrong with the girl, claiming she was different than boys and that she was petite.
The couple’s three children are now in foster care and the girl has recovered since being admitted to the hospital earlier this year, although doctors said she should still continue therapy and that they’re monitoring her closely.