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MAMA'S BOY

part 2 of 2
Kyle Schoepflin appeared healthy when his mother carried him off the plane at Stapleton International Airport, says Dell Lofton, a National Jewish employee dispatched to escort the pair to the hospital. "She [Teresa Schoepflin] said the boy had been sick on the airplane, but he looked normal to me," adds Lofton. "He looked fine."

Lofton left the pair for a moment to phone for a hospital van to meet them. When she returned, Lofton says, Kyle was having difficulty breathing and Teresa was giving him "a treatment" with a "compressed-air machine. She said he'd thrown up. She said, `I know he's bad, but I didn't know we'd be going in with a big bang.'"

The incident at the airport would provide the basis for the first of 38 charges brought against Schoepflin months later by Denver prosecutor Katie O'Brien. According to O'Brien's criminal complaint, the alleged acts of child abuse then piled up with dizzying speed. The next life-threatening event occurred January 10. Then January 13. Two on January 14. And more on each of the next four days.

Dr. Leland Fan, chief of clinical pediatric pulmonary services for National Jewish, later told police that Kyle inhaled liquids into his lungs on numerous occasions. On January 20 Kyle inhaled bath water during what the doctor described as a "near-drowning event"; Teresa had been giving her son a bath in his room at the time. On January 25, the doctor told investigators, Kyle inhaled fluid while his mother was giving him a bottle. On January 28 he inhaled Dr Pepper.

"In every instance," Denver police detective Mark Allen noted in an arrest warrant affidavit dated March 11, "the mother gave the feeding or bath and there were no other witnesses to these events. Each episode resulted in severe respiratory distress and cyanosis (turning blue)."

Initially, however, doctors were not suspicious of Teresa. They went about treating the child as if he had a severe case of asthma.

Then, on January 29, someone apparently cut a catheter that had been hooked to Kyle. "The mother had been very angry over a tapering of his steroids and predicted that he would pull out his line," Allen wrote in the arrest warrant affidavit. "A little while later it was found severed. The mother was alone with the patient at the time and there were no other witnesses to the event."

One of Kyle's most serious attacks occurred on January 30, the boy's second birthday. Fan testified at a preliminary hearing that Teresa had been allowed to put Kyle in a stroller and take him on a walk through the hospital. When the two returned from the walk, Fan said, Kyle was limp and grunting. His skin was blue. The boy was rushed to Children's Hospital and placed in the intensive care unit.

It was at Children's that a pediatric nurse (who asks not to be identified) began tending to the boy. "I cared for him a couple times when he was in ICU," she says. "Then he went to 2-Northwest (an open ward for children who are not in need of intensive care supervision), and I was assigned to him."

Teresa Schoepflin, says the nurse, was "a very angry woman." She argued with the doctors and angered many of the nurses. "Her moods would switch fairly quickly. Most of the time she was pissed off. She would just be very angry.

"The thing is," the nurse continues, "I had a different relationship with her, in that she tended not to get so angry with me. She reminded me of a not-very-sophisticated country lady. That's kind of my background to some extent, so I had some empathy for her. I would sit down and listen to her, even though I suspected this woman might be doing something to her child. By the time she got to 2-Northwest," the nurse says, "things were pretty suspicious, and we were being rather suspicious of her."

Kyle had done fairly well when he was in the ICU, the nurse says, noting that even though Teresa was at his bedside much of the time, "people were around all the time, and the incidents [of respiratory distress] were minimal. The problems came at 2-Northwest, where the moms are allowed to sleep in and take the kids into the hallway unsupervised."

On February 3, Kyle inhaled Jell-O while being fed by his mother. On February 4 he had an attack after she gave him some peach nectar. The incident was especially troubling, says the pediatric nurse, because the boy was scheduled for surgery February 5. Doctors thought Kyle might have a swallowing problem, and planned to insert a feeding tube into his stomach.

In the 24-hour period leading to the surgery, the nurse says, Kyle was to be fed things only with the consistency of yogurt; doctors, who were "trying to rule anything out" in their efforts to diagnose his problems, believed he might regurgitate and inhale anything thinner. The nurse says that she brought Kyle a breakfast tray containing some peach nectar and some gelatin and that she told Teresa to mix the gelatin with the nectar to thicken it to the desired consistency.

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