[Hpn] A silent, desolate and cold beginning

Graeme Bacque gbacque@colosseum.com
Sun, 26 Jan 2003 15:09:09 -0800


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Jan. 26, 2003. 10:14 AM The Toronto Star

A silent, desolate and cold beginning
HAROLD LEVY AND CHRIS SORENSEN
STAFF REPORTERS

A maternity ward it was not.

With a single concrete wall and an overhanging set of stairs to block the
wind, the abandoned newborn baby found Friday night in the northeast corner
of Nathan Phillips Square was lying just steps from the front door of
Toronto City Hall.

One or two skaters swooped in circles on the ice rink, barely 20 metres
away. Most had already gone home, according to the rink attendant, who said
he was closing up the skate rental shack when he noticed flashing ambulance
and police cruiser lights shortly after 10 p.m.

There were no street vendors nearby. Few pedestrians. And even the classic
rock radio that normally blares across the rink had been silenced.

Myint Tun, 35, a homeless man, said the square was about as desolate as it
gets on a Friday night.

He went to sleep at about 9:30 p.m. but awoke when one of several police
officers shone a flashlight on him.

"It was very cold," Tun said.

Police said the baby, only minutes old, was lying "naked and uncovered on
the cement" beside a stairwell leading to the underground parking lot when
she was noticed by a passerby. The newborn was barely conscious, with her
umbilical cord still attached.

"It's critical that the mother come forward," said Bruce Rivers, executive
director of the Children's Aid Society of Toronto. Rivers said the mother
should at least contact the CAS and provide the infant's medical history.

The baby suffered a heart attack on the way to St. Michael's Hospital, where
she was first taken, but was revived in the ambulance, said Larry Roberts, a
spokesperson for Toronto's Emergency Medical Services. Two paramedic crews
were dispatched to the scene at about 10:15 p.m., but "whoever called 911
wasn't there," Roberts said.

"I know the medics were very upset."

The child was later taken to the Hospital for Sick Children.

Hospital spokesperson Helen Simeon said in an interview the baby's condition
was upgraded yesterday from "critical" to "serious but stable."

Hospital staff believe the baby may have been delivered "a few weeks early,
... probably around 35 weeks," she said.

The baby has been given a generic name for the time being. Rivers confirmed
that the CAS is now the girl's legal guardian and in a position to instruct
doctors on her care.

The agency's need to contact the mother is motivated by concern for her
health and that of the child, he said.

"We need to get as much information as we can about the child's medical
history, and on the (genetic) background both of the mother and the birth
father, whoever he might be," Rivers said.

"Obviously this mother, whoever she is, is in extreme crisis. She needs
assistance, both medical and emotional, as well."

Even if the mother is afraid to come forward, Rivers said, she can
anonymously provide the information to the agency by telephone, at
416-924-4646, letter or e-mail.

"Our number is on the second page of every telephone book in the city," he
said. "We are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

Rivers said that on a personal level, he is troubled that the mother did not
seek support before taking such desperate action. "Why didn't she come to
us?" he said.

"We do have programs and provide support to women who are pregnant and
struggling with their plans for their children, and struggling with the
decision whether they can provide for their children."

Councillor Olivia Chow, the city's child advocate, echoed Rivers' hope that
the mother will come forward.

"I don't know what she is going through," said Chow (Ward 20,
Trinity-Spadina), whose ward includes Nathan Phillips Square. "It must be
tremendously difficult and if she is homeless, we will find a place for her
to stay."

Jem Betschart, a student at George Brown College who is working as a
volunteer at Nellie's Hostel, struggled yesterday to understand what could
cause a mother to abandon her newborn in such circumstances.

"She should not feel ashamed," she said. "And she should come forward for
her own safety."

Rivers is optimistic that Toronto's latest baby Jane Doe can survive her
bitter start in life.

He recollects three memorable incidents of abandonment of newborns over the
past 10 years: an infant handed two hours after birth to a stranger in a
mall, a baby abandoned in a shoebox outside a home in the winter, and a baby
left in a hospital garbage container.

"Remarkably, each of those children survived, they are incredibly healthy,
and they have gone on to be adopted and are flourishing," Rivers said.

"That says a lot about their resilience."

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