Although officers declined to call it a formal investigation, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service was making preliminary enquiries this week into the death of a 13-year-old boy at George Town Hospital on Saturday, 6 June.
The boy, who previously attended Cayman’s Lighthouse School and whose name is not being released by the Caymanian Compass, was extremely obese at the time of his death. His condition had caused him health problems for years, according to social services workers and physicians.
At press time, no formal ruling had been made as to the cause of the teen’s death. Doctors believed it could be the first case in the Cayman Islands where obesity may have played a direct role in a child’s passing.
The Caymanian Compass spoke to the doctor who treated the boy at hospital until he reached age 12.
‘Now that we have [a] case, perhaps one or two people will be shaken up and not be as complacent, as they have been before,’ Dr. Marilyn McIntyre said. ‘It’s disastrous…but maybe, at the end of the day, some good can come out of this case if other people take note.’
‘As with all sudden deaths where the cause…is unclear, the RCIPS will carry out some preliminary enquiries,’ a statement from the police service issued Wednesday afternoon read. ‘We will be working with other agencies and will be in contact with the coroner. Our sympathies go out to the family.’
Police did not state precisely why they were making enquiries regarding the death other than indicating such measures were standard policy.
The Caymanian Compass has learned the teen was approved for free medical care by the Department of Children and Family Services in 2007 and 2008 due to his condition.
‘That would indicate that we wanted certain things to be taken care of for him,’ said Children and Family Services Social Work Manager Leanora Wynter-Young. ‘We’ve been involved for quite some time.’
Mrs. Wynter-Young and Children and Family Services Director Deanna Look Loy both said they were not aware of any police enquiries that had come to their department on the matter.
‘I’ve never seen anything of this nature get to this level,’ Mrs. Wynter-Young said, referring to the situation with the 13-year-old Lighthouse student. ‘But I guess there’s a first time for everything.’
Mrs. Wynter-Young said it was simply a sad situation.
‘And (the boy’s) family has had its fair share of tragedy,’ she said.
Childhood obesity has been a growing concern in the Cayman Islands in recent years. A comprehensive study on the issue completed in 2008 by then-Health Services Authority Research Coordinator Laurence van Hanswijck de Jonge served to highlight the scope of the problem.
The study, which compiled more than 20 years of research, showed 31 per cent of children on Grand Cayman were obese, or were at risk of becoming obese.
On Cayman Brac, the numbers were even worse with some 40 per cent of children on the Island identified as either obese or at risk of becoming so.
‘Cayman has its share of malnutrition,’ Mrs. Wynter-Young said. ‘Only it comes out on the side of obesity, not starvation.’
According to a recent interview in the Observer on Sunday, Mrs. Look Loy said she didn’t believe either allowing a child to become obese or failure to report childhood obesity could be considered a crime under the newly amended Children’s Law.
‘I don’t know if you can stretch it so far,’ she said.
The law was changed earlier this year to require professionals that work with kids, like teachers and doctors, to report suspected cases of child abuse.
Some staffers within Children and Family Services did not necessarily agree with the director’s assessment. .
‘If it is determined by law that a child is being placed at ‘harm’ for health-related reasons, namely issues of juvenile obesity, then practitioners such as medical practitioners, child psychologists and or child psychiatrists should be held accountable and be medically responsible to bring such matters to the attention of the relevant authorities,’ Deborah Webb-Siblies, a child abuse expert within the department, told the publication.
‘It’s disastrous…but maybe, at the end of the day, some good can come out of this case if other people take note.’ – Dr. Marilyn McIntyre
Cayman Free Press reporters James Dimond and Shurna Robbins contributed to this story.