WARNING: This story contains details that may be upsetting for some people
A teen mother failed to get treatment for her 5-month-old baby who suffered multiple non-accidental head injuries while in her care - then fed him only sugar and water for a week.
Qualana Thompson has never given a straight answer to authorities, claiming she has no idea what happened to her son who is now 4 and is likely to experience significant health and developmental issues due to the large amount of subdural hemorrhaging around his brain.
The boy was born in November 2019, when Thompson was then aged 18 and her partner, was 19.
Four months later the pair moved into separate units of emergency housing on Hamilton’s Ulster St, with their baby and 2-year-old son in Thompson’s unit.
The next day, he had surgery for club feet and fitted with soft boots and a bar to keep his feet in the correct position, with both to be worn 23 hours a day.
However, from then on, the baby was often crying and not sleeping with Thompson feeling that as soon as one son went to sleep, the other would wake, leaving her feeling exhausted.
The country then went into lockdown on March 25 and Thompson and her two sons stayed in their motel room, with her partner helping with their care and occasionally staying overnight.
On April 18, Thompson inflicted a “serious head trauma” on her young son, court documents state.
He became “obviously unwell”; losing consciousness and having trouble breathing.
When her partner found out, he told her to call 111 which she did about 5.30pm, and described him having a “floppy head” incident.
However, what exactly happened remains unclear as Thompson’s version of events from that day “subsequently were inconsistent”.
She initially told a 111 operator that she was watching him and “just cooking a feed” and that he was “breathing but his head’s flopping down”, he was “so dozy now” and it was “like he’s in a sleep with his eyes open”.
He was taken to Waikato Hospital for monitoring for a recommended 24 hours, however, she discharged him at 1am, after just six hours, and before a consultation could be completed by a paediatrician.
She told police in an interview on May 13 that it happened after she put him on the couch with a pillow and “he went down”.
Court documents state that the baby also had a number of “pinpoint bruising” areas below the eye, recognised as non-accidental injury.
Thompson took him for a check-up on May 1, and there were no injuries, but a week later police were contacted after her partner was seen walking down the street cradling him. Officers noticed bruising on his face.
When asked what happened, he said the baby had “maybe fallen over” a few days earlier when he was in hospital.
Thompson said the bruise was caused by having the braces from his feet removed.
He was taken to Waikato Hospital the next day and staff noticed his head was “obviously large with frontal bulging ... suggesting raised intracranial pressure” before being transferred to Starship Hospital.
Scans revealed he had subdural haemorrhaging - on both sides of his brain - that caused significant swelling that required “time-critical surgery”.
Medical staff found most of the fluid was either “older blood from a past episode of trauma or multiple densities from a single episode of trauma”.
They also found evidence of old head trauma, in the form of atrophy or shrinking of the brain, to his left side involving the frontal, parietal and temporal lobes. The hemorrhage had been there long enough - likely several weeks - to form membranes.
“The sheer size of the subdural collections and [baby’s] extremely large head circumference also supported the conclusion that at least some of the subdural blood had been there for quite a while.”
There was also subdural hemorrhaging in the back of his skull likely the result of more recent bleeding, up to 10 days, along with clotting of a number of bridging veins which was also indicative of trauma.
The baby also had bruises on both the left and right sides of his face and his chin, along with a nearly oval horseshoe-shaped bruise on his cheek, that was also patterned.
He stayed 19 days at Starship with Thompson saying the injuries were caused by the bar and boots he wore for his club feet or from her “vigourously winding him”.
Niether Thompson nor her partner sought medical help for the bruising, feeding issues, eye squint, abnormal eye movements or head swelling.
She told police her baby had always had a lazy eye and large head and after his surgery he had ongoing feeding issues and wasn’t sleeping.
She only fed him water and sugar for about a week, which she would syringe into his mouth as he wouldn’t take formula.
Court documents, dated August 9 state the baby is now likely to experience significant health and developmental issues as a result of the brain injury.
Thompson was also sentenced on charges of assaulting police and breaching court bail, which also concerned Judge Philip Crayton.
“She is someone with youth on her side ... but she is, it has to be said, defiant to a degree which is somewhat disconcerting,” he told her lawyer Shaam Bhardwaj.
Thompson, who had her first child aged 16 while still at school, had earlier accepted a sentence indication on the ill-treatment of a child charge. She also earlier admitted assaulting police in 2021 - which saw her spit at and pinch an officer - and breaching her court bail.
He accepted her living circumstances were difficult at the time and she had drug and alcohol issues, while a pre-sentence report revealed she was brought up in an “unstable family environment” and also saw her in the care of Oranga Tamariki which was also “violent”.
As she had no address available, Judge Crayton jailed her for two years however he granted her leave to apply for home detention should she find somewhere suitable.
On her release from prison, or if she is granted home detention, Thompson is not to associate with any person under 13 unless under supervision, attend a parenting programme, and have an alcohol and drug assessment.
She is also not to contact or associate with her partner without prior approval.
Thompson’s partner will be sentenced on the ill-treatment charge at a later date.
Belinda Feek is an Open Justice reporter based in Waikato. She has worked at NZME for eight years and been a journalist for 19.
Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you