When food-borne illnesses result in critical life-threatening conditions, typically the victims do not get to tell the stories. Their pain and suffering are usually shared only by their closest friends and families, but the public usually turns away not wanting to hear about internal organs being removed or the loss of liver function or brain damage.
The Washington Post Tuesday ventured the world where the swift loss of health is almost too frightening to believe. Staff Writer Lyndsey Layton told the story of Linda Rivera, who made what might turn out to be a fatal mistake. Last May, according to the Post, Rivera “nonchalantly ate several spoonfuls of the Nestle cookie dough her family had consumed for years.”
She is among the most seriously injured of the 80 people in 31 states that state and federal health officials say were sickened by the Nestle cookie dough because it carried the deadly bacteria E. coli O157:H7. Rivera is among the ten Nestle victims who developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a potentially life-threatening disease.
“Linda Rivera,” the Post reported, “has just been trying to stay alive. Her cascading problems started about seven days after she ate the dough when her kidneys shut down and she went into septic shock.
“The doctors had to remove part of her colon, which had become contaminated. Soon, her gallbladder was inflamed and hard to be excised. Shortly after, her liver stopped functioning. It unclear exactly what is causing her loss of speech, although the toxin produced by the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria can attack the brain.”
"People just don’t really understand how horrible food-borne illness is," said William Marler, a prominent Seattle-based food-safety lawyer who is representing the Rivera family and 23 other victims in the cookie dough outbreak. "They think food-borne illness is a tummy ache and diarrhea."
As Congress nears the end of its summer recess, food safety advocates are hoping the Post’s story on Linda Rivera helps keep the need for reform on the Congressional radar screen. Before the break, the House passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009.
The new law imposes fees and gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stepped up powers of inspection and for issuing recalls. It focuses on tracing back foods and specific ingredients to the source while imposing uniform standards on both imports and domestically produced goods.
“Victims and their families telling their stories at almost a dozen Congressional hearings during the past three years is the main reason food safety legislation has gotten this far,” Marler said. “I’m hopeful that the fight Linda is making for her very life will help move the Senate to join the House in passing a food safety bill the President will sign."
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Above: Richard cares for wife Linda Rivera.