Foodborne Illness:
  People who've fallen victim


    Dana



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"Until Dana became ill I never washed my cantaloupe rinds before slicing them up. Now, no fruit or vegetable in our home ever goes without being washed once, if not twice. "
  — Dana's mother

It was a beautiful Easter Sunday in 2001 and following church my husband, myself, and our 3 year old daughter Dana, were looking forward to enjoying brunch at a local resort hotel on the beach. It was a gorgeous day and our seats in the restaurant were overlooking the ocean while behind us was an array of gourmet food. Dana was a typical three year old picky eater so it did not surprise me that the only food she wanted to eat was cantaloupe. Dana proceeded to fill her plate with cantaloupe at least three times during brunch while my husband and I indulged on the other delicious food. It was a wonderful afternoon and truly a memory we will not forget—in more ways than one!

Twenty-four hours later Dana complained of a headache and stomach ache. I contacted her pediatrician and I was told it was just a virus. Over the next six days Dana proceed to get worse with a fever as high as 104, severe stomach cramping and bloody diarrhea—she was finally admitted to the hospital through the emergency room. After 4 days of blood tests, stool cultures, surgical consults, ultrasounds, a negative E. coli culture, negative parasitology and negative rotavirus, the doctors were unable to find anything conclusive. Despite her abnormal hemoglobin and hematocrit levels, Dana was able to keep fluids down and her more severe symptoms had lessened so her doctor allowed us to take her home as long as she was closely monitored by her pediatrician. We were relieved to finally be going home!

It was 7:00 p.m. when we were discharged from the hospital. At 9:00 p.m., just after my husband and I had just tucked Dana into her bed, we received a phone call that no parent should ever have to get. It was her doctors, and they were questioning whether or not Dana was going to live. They had just received a positive culture for Salmonella Poona blood poisoning and advised that we needed to bring her back to the hospital immediately for an aggressive course of IV antibiotic treatment. We had asked if we could wait until the morning as we had just arrived home and put Dana to bed but were informed that because the Salmonella Poona organism got into her bloodstream, the illness could produce more severe health issues, so we needed to bring her back to the hospital immediately. At 9:15 p.m. we were in the car on the way back to the hospital, which was a very long ride as we did not know whether Dana was going to live or die.

After five days of a very aggressive course of four antibiotics, we were again able to take Dana home and this time stay home! A week after our discharge the FDA warned consumers that an outbreak of foodborne illness associated with cantaloupe had caused numerous illnesses and deaths across 14 fourteen states.

Until Dana became ill I never washed my cantaloupe rinds before slicing them up. Now, no fruit or vegetable in our home ever goes without being washed once, if not twice. As a parent, you are excited when your child eats healthy but with all of the current outbreaks in produce you begin to get worried. Something must be done to make our produce safe.


Thank you to STOP Foodborne Illness and the individuals shown above and their families for permission to republish their testimonies and photographs.

Copyright © 2011 Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA.

Last page update: September 11, 2011