We have been very busy these past few weeks at S.T.O.P.- traveling, fund raising, educating and advocating- all in order to help protect our nation’s food supply. In spite of all this activity, I never forget why I do this: to prevent people getting sick from devastating foodborne illnesses that damage lives forever. I do this for people like Linda, a young woman in her 20’s, who should have the whole world ahead of her. But, due to long-term consequences from the E. coli-contaminated meat that she ate when she was 6 years old, her life is different than most women her age.
When she was 6 years old, Linda’s mom took her and her 2 year old brother out to get cheeseburgers for lunch. How could she know that this meal would change their lives forever? Shortly afterward, Linda and her brother became ill with horrible stomach cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting. Her situation worsened and ultimately her kidneys were failing. She was diagnosed with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) due to E. coli poisoning, and sent to the Children's Hospital. Once admitted, she was given blood transfusions and remained on dialysis for three weeks. She ended up missed two months of first grade, which set her behind in reading for two years.
After several years, her kidneys were functioning at a normal level again. Aside from suffering from severe depression from junior high to high school, it seemed she had left her experience with E. coli behind her. However, in her senior year of high school she woke up with Bell's Palsy, and spent another week in the hospital where she and was now diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. Her kidneys were functioning at 35% and doctors predicted she would need a kidney transplant by the time she reached her forties. Unfortunately, after a successful year at Art College, she began to feel lethargic and fall behind in her classes only to find that she would need a transplant by the time she graduated. In October of 2006, her mom donated a kidney to her in a pre-emptive transplant surgery.
The entire ordeal caused her to be two semesters behind in school, terrified about finding health insurance and worried about being able to pay off all her medical bills. She has to take 12 different medications a day and have her blood drawn once a month. She had to give up the one job she ever truly loved- working at an animal hospital- because infection from contact with animals posed too great a risk. The emotional consequences she’s faced have been immense—low self-esteem from kidney transplant scars and bulges, guilt from feeling that her parents’ divorce was due to stress from her illness, and concern for what the future may hold for her younger brother due to the infection he suffered as well as the effects of watching his sister struggle and go through so many hospitalizations.
At Safe Tables Our Priority we work hard to help victims like Linda; we introduced her to another victim her age with a similar experience, and have assisted and empowered her to tell her story. Our goal is not only to prevent foodborne illness, but also to aid those who have fallen ill. If you haven’t already done so, sign up for our free S.T.O.P. E-alerts now, and get regular updates on outbreaks and recalled foods in the marketplace in order to keep something like this from happening to you or your family.