Doctor: faith-healing teen death unusual

OREGON CITY — A doctor considered an expert in the disease that killed a 16-year-old Oregon City boy told a jury Thursday that the boy could have been saved right up to the last minute if his faith-healing parents had sought medical care.

Dr. Patrick O'Hollaren said Neil Beagley would be alive despite advanced kidney disease caused by a congenital problem that caused urine to back up into his body from birth.

"He could be standing here today, no question in my mind," O'Hollaren said. "It's just mind-boggling."

The teen's parents, Jeff and Marci Beagley, are on trial in Clackamas County on criminally negligent homicide charges in the June 2008 death of their only son.

The Beagleys are members of the Followers of Christ Church and reject doctors in favor of faith healing through prayer, anointing with oil and laying on hands.

Their granddaughter died in March 2008 of pneumonia and a blood infection that could have been treated, resulting in manslaughter charges against the Beagley's daughter, Raylene Worthington, and her husband, Carl Brent Worthington.

Another Clackamas County jury acquitted the Worthingtons of manslaughter in the death of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava, but found Carl Brent Worthington guilty of the lesser charge of criminal mistreatment.

The case against the Beagleys has become the second major test of Oregon law changed in 1999 to limit faith healing as a legal defense following a public outcry over a series of child deaths among members of the church.

Prosecutors called O'Hollaren to testify as an expert because he is considered one of the leading pediatric urologists in the nation and has reviewed the Beagley case.

O'Hollaren said Neil Beagley suffered from an obstruction of the urethra near the bladder that restricted the flow of urine. Typically the congenital problem is discovered during prenatal care with ultrasound of the fetus or shortly after birth, and is treated immediately and monitored for the rest of a patient's life.

O'Hollaren said he had never seen the problem go undetected before age 3, and it was remarkable that Neil Beagley had survived until 16.

Prosecutors have noted that Neil Beagley never saw a doctor, and his mother, Marci, never had any prenatal care. The teen was home-schooled most of his life.

Also testifying Thursday for the prosecution was Dr. Clifford Nelson, the deputy state medical examiner who conducted the autopsy of Neil Beagley.

Nelson, a pathologist, said the teen's bladder contained about 800 milliliters of urine — nearly a quart — which is about four times more than the amount it takes in the average person to trigger the need to use the bathroom.

Over time, the excess urine had enlarged the boy's bladder, along with the ureters leading to the bladder from the kidneys, and contributed to fluid buildup that enlarged his heart to about twice the normal size, Nelson said.

His kidneys were down to about 5 percent of normal function before he died, said Nelson, adding that he also had never seen a case like this involving a teenager.

Defense attorneys Wayne Mackeson and Steve Lindsey questioned Nelson about comments made to the media following the autopsy indicating that Neil Beagley must have suffered excruciating pain before he died.

"You said, 'I'd imagine he was in a lot of pain.' That's not true," Mackeson said.

"That was an error," Nelson responded.

Nelson said he based those comments on his examination of the size of the bladder, but later learned the teenager likely did not suffer extreme pain because he had become accustomed to it over time.

The defense plans to call its expert witnesses Monday.

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