Published April 30, 2002
NEW YORK – A vegan couple in New York City were busted for starving their baby daughter — by denying her breast milk and formula, feeding her only nuts, fruits and vegetables, and allegedly failing to get her medical help for severe malnutrition.
Joseph and Silva Swinton, both 31, were arrested Friday and charged with reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child for failing to properly feed and care for their baby, Ice.
The Swintons, who are being held in lieu of $20,000 bail, face up to seven years in prison if convicted.
Sixteen-month-old Ice Swinton weighed only 10 pounds, looked like a 2- or 3-month-old and was half the normal weight of a child her age when authorities discovered her close to death last November.
EMS workers rushed Ice to from her Queens home to Long Island Jewish Hospital, where doctors diagnosed her with developmental problems, a distended abdomen, fractured bones, a vitamin deficiency called rickets and a lung disorder — all caused by malnutrition, authorities said.
The Swintons, who say they approach veganism as a religion, fed the child a diet of "ground nuts, fresh-squeezed fruit juices, herbal tea, beans, cod liver oil and flax seed oil," a complaint said.
Even when doctors told the couple their baby was on the brink of death in November, both parents insisted "there was nothing wrong" and were resistant to treatment, the complaint said.
After a four-month hospital stay, the New York City Administration for Children's Services placed the baby in a foster home.
Several months on a healthy diet have helped the 20-month-old to achieve the functions of a 10- to 12-month-old baby, but the child is still struggling, authorities said.
Warren Silverman, a lawyer representing the mother, questioned why there was such a long delay to file charges.
"If Long Island Jewish Hospital at that time thought that something was amiss, why wasn't something done right away?" he asked.
The Swintons have been allowed supervised visits with their daughter — but ACS has asked that a judge order them stopped after the father said he thought the child was getting "chubby," sources said.
Neighbor Toyin Savage said she was "shocked."
Another neighbor said she saw the baby recently.
"I asked how old she was and they said, 'Almost a year.' She looked very small. They said she was a vegetarian — I didn't think about it at the time."