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Doctor says she confronted ill boy’s mother

Was concerned over missed doses

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By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / April 6, 2011

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LAWRENCE — The doctor who treated a boy who later died after his mother allegedly stopped giving him life-saving medication testified yesterday that she confronted the woman about how she was handling the cancer-stricken boy, but her efforts were in vain.

“I was worried that Jeremy hadn’t received a lot of the medications that I had intended for him to receive, and I was worried about how that conversation would go with his mother,’’ said Dr. Alison Friedmann, a pediatric oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who started treating Jeremy Fraser in October 2006 when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Friedmann said she warned Kristen LaBrie that she was taking her concerns to the state. And when a social worker confronted the boy’s mother, LaBrie denied withholding the medication, saying to do so would be like “pushing him in front of a car,’’ Kate MacDougall, assistant Essex district attorney, said during her opening statements yesterday in LaBrie’s attempted murder trial.

“She’s charged, ladies and gentlemen, in a sense of pushing him in front of that car,’’ MacDougall told the seven-man, seven-woman jury in Lawrence Superior Court. “She didn’t tell anyone she was not giving Jeremy his chemotherapy drugs. Dr. Friedmann made two horrifying discoveries: that the defendant was not filling the prescriptions and that the cancer was back.’’

Friedmann testified that a team of doctors had managed to push Jeremy’s cancer into remission with potent chemotherapy treatments and that she was optimistic, citing an 85 to 90 percent cure rate, that he could be cancer-free with continued treatments over a two-year span. The majority of those treatments, in the form of pills, were to be given by LaBrie. But prosecutors say she failed to fill the prescriptions numerous times in the initial months of treatment.

LaBrie’s attorney, Kevin James, acknowledged that his client stopped giving her son the pills, but argued that she made that decision in an impaired mental state brought on by her grief from watching the potent treatments affect her son and the constant attention that she, a single mother, had to give Jeremy, who was autistic, nonverbal, and not potty-trained.

“Her mental strength weakened, her objectivity waned,’’ James said, and in that condition, “she made a decision to stop giving him medication. The Commonwealth wants to make this tragic mistake a criminal act.’’

LaBrie also faces charges of assault and battery on a disabled person with injury, assault and battery on a child with substantial injury, and reckless endangerment of a child.

Friedmann testified that in early 2008, Jeremy was hospitalized with influenza and a respiratory virus and that she advised LaBrie to temporarily stop giving him the cancer medications so he could have a better chance to recuperate from those illnesses. Friedmann also made appointments to test Jeremy’s blood, but it was difficult for a nurse to reach LaBrie.

“I had a funny feeling; it struck me as odd because it was so important,’’ Friedmann said. She then called the Stop & Shop pharmacy that LaBrie used near the Salem-Peabody town line. Friedmann said the pharmacy said the prescriptions were filled only three times in eight months.

Friedmann said she called LaBrie because she urgently needed to check the boy’s blood. LaBrie brought him in, and tests revealed that the cancer had returned in the form of leukemia.

Friedmann said that she met with LaBrie and asked her about the prescriptions, but that LaBrie said she had filled them and that the pharmacy must have made a mistake with their records.

Friedmann testified that she then told LaBrie she would call the Department of Social Services, now the Department of Children and Families, to voice her concern.

Alysha Piccinni, then an investigator from the department, testified that she interviewed LaBrie at the hospital March 3, 2008. Jeremy was nearby, in an incubator-type device. His skin was grayish, she said.

Jeremy was removed from his mother’s custody and placed in the care of his father, Eric J. Fraser. Jeremy died at age 9 at a hospice house in March 2009. His father withheld all medical care based on the recommendations of doctors who said the child’s illness could not be halted.

Fraser, who told reporters LaBrie had rebuffed his efforts to be involved in his son’s life, died in a motorcycle crash in 2010.

The trial, which is expected to last about seven days, is scheduled to resume today.

Brian R. Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.