Bill Marler and the other attorneys at Marler Clark have been litigating E. coli O157:H7 cases for sixteen years. I have done it now for six. Collectively, we have seen E. coli illnesses ranging from a few days of diarrhea to some of the most agonizing deaths imaginable . . . and everything in between. It doesn’t matter how it happens–at least not to the parents of the kids getting sick. Whether its lettuce, hamburgers, stagnant pond water, or contaminated venison, the results can be tragic.
Many of the saddest cases we have been involved came from California produce. Ruby Trautz is a perfect example. She was a beloved mother and grandmother who lived in Bellevue, Nebraska. Ruby died a death more befitting of a capital murderer . . . and only because she ate contaminated spinach. Read more about Ruby’s E. coli O157:H7 illness here.
Kelly Cobb is yet another example. Kelly was also infected by California produce, though her illness arose from a different outbreak than Ruby Trautz. Kelly was more fortunate than Ruby, but only because her younger body was more capable of fighting the severe infection than Ruby’s was.
Nonetheless, Kelly’s E. coli O157:H7 infection also resulted in hemolytic uremic syndrome. See www.about-hus.com. Here is the story of Kelly’s illness:
In the early morning hours of May 16, 2008, Kelly was roused from sleep, at first by a strange bloated feeling and then a bad bout of diarrhea. It seemed as if there was a rock under her rib cage causing an overwhelming feeling of nausea, yet she did not vomit. This was followed by crampy pain in the upper part of her stomach, with sharper spasms of pain coursing through her torso every ten minutes or so. With the pain came diarrhea, which by 5:00 AM had turned to blood.
Kelly was seen in the emergency room of Good Samaritan Hospital in Tacoma, Washington from 6:00 AM until 11:00 AM. She described to the doctors the surprisingly severe, sudden onset of the nausea, abdominal cramping and bloody diarrhea. The history taken by the triage nurse revealed nothing out of the ordinary: Kelly had been in good health, she was not pregnant, her children had not been sick.
But blood tests showed an elevated number of white blood cells, the sign of a bacterial infection. The presence of gallstones was picked up by an abdominal ultrasound, yet there was no evidence that Kelly had cholecystitis, an active gallbladder attack. A watery stool was guaiac positive—in other words, there was blood in it. This was sent to be cultured and also for Clostridium difficile toxin-testing. Kelly was initially given intravenous fluids and pain medication, then sent home with prescriptions for the antibiotic Ciproflaxin, as well as oral pain and anti-nausea medications. She was told to see her primary care physician in a day or two, or return to the emergency room if other problems arose.
Other problems did crop up, almost immediately. Kelly could not drink or eat anything, including her prescribed medications, without vomiting. The diarrhea was unrelenting, and the watery rectal discharge was mostly bright red with blood. She was also suffering from intense pain. Kelly returned to the Good Samaritan Hospital emergency room on May 17, and this time she was admitted to the hospital for treatment. She was severely dehydrated, with depressed levels of serum electrolytes, blood urea nitrogen and creatinine. She was started on IV fluids and given something for the pain.
A colonoscopy performed on May 18 showed pancolitis, a form of severe, ulcerative colitis that is manifested by an irritation throughout the length of the colon and that typically is the result of an infection. The pathologist suspected that the source was likely E. coli O157:H7, but could not rule out the possibility of ulcerative colitis. Bowel tissue biopsies showed inflammatory pseudomembranes. These findings were nonspecific, so still did not explain the cause of the problem.
On May 19, the doctor noted that Kelly’s abdominal pain was relatively better, and that she no longer felt nauseated and was not vomiting. Her pancolitis was improving and there was no blood in her stool. The plan was to take her off intravenous medications, switch her to oral treatments and then let her go home.
On the morning of May 20, the mystery of Kelly’s symptoms was solved. A stool sample collected on May 16 had grown out E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. The Ciproflaxin was discontinued. Kelly still rated her abdominal pain as a seven on a scale of one to ten, and she was nauseated again. But doctors were encouraged that she could finally keep down food and water and that there had been no bouts of bloody diarrhea overnight, so they discharged her to go home around midday.
The following day, May 21, Kelly’s symptoms returned worse than ever. She had awakened overnight feeling quite ill and began to vomit again repeatedly. She was absolutely unable to keep any fluids down. Her family took her back to the hospital on May 22 after she had been up the whole night with awful nausea and vomiting.
Laboratory tests now indicated that she was anemic. Since her discharge May 20, her hematocrit and platelet counts had decreased significantly, while her BUN and creatinine levels had increased since her recent discharge. These were ominous signs that Kelly’s kidneys were beginning to lose filter function and that she appeared to be developing hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), the dire complication of an E. coli O157:H7 infection. Kelly was told her kidney function was at 50 percent of normal.
Kelly was once again admitted to the hospital, where a catheter was inserted so she could receive intravenous fluids and for blood draws. She was tired and miserable. Whenever she opened her eyes she felt dizzy and sick to her stomach.
By May 23, the doctors agreed that plasmapheresis, or plasma exchange, would be necessary as soon as possible to remove waste products from the blood that were accumulating as Kelly’s kidney function diminished. Plasmapheresis involves withdrawing whole blood from the patient, removing the plasma from the blood cells through a cell separator, and then returning the blood cells to the patient while replacing the plasma with donor plasma.
Continue Reading E. coli in Lettuce or Hamburgers: Sadly, the Results are Often the Same