Remembering Kevin: There was no accountability

Editor’s word: This story was initially printed by The Ohio State University and is republished right here with permission. The writer is Barbara Kowalcyk, Kevin’s mom.

Kevin got here into our lives early within the morning on December 10, 1998. Our second baby – our first son – instantly captured our hearts, and shortly confirmed us simply how sturdy he was. Solely hours outdated when he started struggling to breathe and preserve his temperature, Kevin was rushed to intensive care. Decided to dwell, he fought arduous, and recovered inside two days, leaving medical doctors perplexed as what may have induced his life-threatening difficulties.

As Kevin grew, his fantastic little character started to emerge. He was clearly very vibrant, spending hours finding out the shapes round him and attempting to imitate every thing his older sister Megan may do. He had a delicate aspect as nicely, and was very in tune to the emotions and moods of these round him. I used to be utterly in love with him.

On Kevin’s first birthday, the shifting truck arrived to pack up our house in Delaware and transfer us to a small city close to Madison, Wisconsin, the place my husband had taken a brand new place. We improvised by celebrating him at a restaurant, with a cupcake and a candle. He didn’t thoughts within the least. Laid again like his dad, Kevin took it in stride, as he did the following transfer. By the summer time of 2001, we had settled into our new life. Mike was working as an economist, I used to be a analysis biostatistician at UW-Madison, Megan was beginning kindergarten, and Kevin was within the “horrible twos”– pissed off that he couldn’t do every thing his huge sister may. That by no means stopped him from attempting, which frequently resulted in messes and minor disasters. Even so, I couldn’t get mad at him when he checked out me with these twinkling blue eyes…he was simply too cute!

In July, we headed off on a much-anticipated household trip, which took us from New Jersey to Maine. Stopping alongside the way in which at Plymouth Rock, Acadia Nationwide Park, the Baseball Corridor of Fame, and Niagara Falls, we visited with a number of outdated  associates and kin. It was by far the most effective household trip we had ever taken. Had we identified what was in retailer for us, we might have by no means come house.

On Tuesday, July 31, 2001, two weeks after returning house, Kevin awoke with a gentle fever. He additionally had diarrhea. The next day, the diarrhea was bloody. Rising involved, we took him to the emergency room that night, however after a brief examination, they despatched us house. By the subsequent morning, Kevin was even sicker. We went again to the hospital; this time they admitted him, handled him for dehydration and bloody stools, and ran a number of exams. The analysis got here in later that afternoon: E.coli O157:H7.

On August third, Kevin’s kidneys began failing; he had developed what the medical doctors had dreaded: Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The situation destroys platelets and blood vessels, together with the very small ones within the kidneys, mind, coronary heart, and intestines. Late that night time, Kevin was transferred to UW Kids’s Hospital PICU. Mike and I spent the subsequent eight days and nights in that hospital, watching our lovely son slip away from us with each passing hour.

It was a Saturday when Kevin acquired his first dialysis, a three-hour process throughout which a nurse, my husband, and two of our associates needed to restrain him by holding his little legs and arms, all of the whereas speaking and singing songs to reassure him. Kevin spent the remainder of that day and the subsequent two crawling round a crib, in agony from the vicious assault on his tiny physique. He vomited black bile. He grew to become drawn, and his eyes had been sunken. He regarded like a malnourished third-world baby. And he smelled – a horrible and overwhelming odor – a odor you can always remember. Throughout these three horrible days, he repeatedly begged us to present him some water or juice, however the medical doctors stated it could solely make him worse, so we needed to inform him no. He began asking to swim in his turtle – the newborn pool in our yard. He stored up his heart-rending pleas till we lastly agreed to present him a sponge bathtub, and the moment that washcloth got here close to his mouth, he instinctively grabbed it and sucked the water out of it. It broke our hearts.

Kevin continued to say no. On Tuesday, August seventh, he was positioned on a ventilator and extra dialysis, this time, round the clock. Within the hope of stopping any reminiscence of the ordeal, the medical doctors sedated him closely. Each time the remedy began to put on off, although, he would attempt to pull the tubes out, so that they had been pressured to place braces on his arms to restrain him. When his physique started to swell, medical doctors inserted extra tubes to empty the fluid that had collected in each lungs. By the top of the week, he was receiving extra medicines than we may rely to stabilize his blood stress and coronary heart charge. He had acquired eight items of blood. A particular mattress needed to be ordered in an effort to alleviate his ache. Regardless of all this, hospital workers remained optimistic, assuring us that this was the everyday course of restoration for youths with HUS.

However for Kevin, the entire therapies, transfusions, and medicines weren’t sufficient. On August eleventh at 8:20 pm, after being resuscitated twice – and simply as medical doctors had been trying to place him on a heart-lung machine – our beloved little boy died. He was 2 years, 8 months and 1 day outdated. The post-mortem later confirmed that each Kevin’s giant and small intestines had died – a situation that’s 100% deadly.

Within the days and weeks after Kevin’s dying, we had been plagued, not solely by grief, however by 100 nagging questions: how may Kevin have gone from being a wholesome, vibrant toddler to being useless in simply 12 days? And extra importantly, how did Kevin get E. coli within the first place?

We might spend the subsequent three years looking for the solutions to those questions. What we realized – and the difficulties we encountered – had been surprising.

Since E. coli O157:H7 is a reportable infectious illness, our county public well being division had been notified as quickly as Kevin was recognized. Whereas he lay in intensive care, well being division officers had interviewed my husband and me for an hour-and-a-half. They’d requested for stool samples from us and our daughter so they might decide if we, too, had contracted E. coli. We had complied, after which waited for the outcomes of the exams, in addition to the investigation they promised to conduct. Extremely, we by no means heard from them once more. 

In early September, my mom requested me if she may comply with up with the general public well being division. We had been floored when she advised us what she’d realized: my husband and daughter had additionally examined optimistic for E. coli O157:H7! Their solely symptom was one unfastened bowel motion. Had Kevin not been sick, we wouldn’t have even given it a second thought; however you’ll suppose that with three instances of E. coli O157:H7, our native and state well being departments would have launched an intensive investigation. Though reporting rules specify that three instances represent an outbreak, we had been advised that Kevin was “an remoted case.” The well being division official stated they regarded Kevin as the unique case, and my daughter and husband as having contracting their E. colifrom him, not from a meals supply. Additional, he stated, the possibilities of precisely figuring out the supply of Kevin’s sickness had been lower than 5 %.

Determined for solutions, my husband and I searched for somebody educated to assist us. We discovered a lawyer who specialised in foodborne sicknesses. On condition that Kevin had eaten three hamburgers within the week previous to his sickness, our legal professional suspected a meat contamination. In November, underneath the Freedom of Info Act, we requested the DNA fingerprints from the USDA for all meat remembers in 2001. It took six months, and several other threats of lawsuits, to acquire that info.

In 2003, after receiving and reviewing all of the paperwork, we found that the PFGE sample (or DNA) of Kevin’s E. coli matched that of a meat recall from August 2001. The recalled meat had been produced by a subsidiary of considered one of America’s largest agribusinesses. A 12 months earlier than Kevin’s sickness, that firm had failed the USDA’s Salmonella take a look at — for the second time. That is vital; underneath USDA’s HACCP new meals inspection system, failing a Salmonella take a look at is an indicator that different foodborne pathogens usually tend to be current. And, based on USDA rules, vegetation failing the Salmonella take a look at 3 times are alleged to be shut down.

Not surprisingly, that very same firm had additionally examined optimistic in a in December 2000 random E. coli O157:H7 take a look at, leading to a recall of 1.1 million kilos of floor beef. USDA carried out one other random E. coli O157:H7 take a look at shortly after that. Whereas that one was damaging, a July 2001 outbreak in northern Illinois and Chicago was traced again to the identical offending plant. 

In consequence, USDA carried out a non-random take a look at for E. coli O157:H7 on August 2, 2001, and it was optimistic. That outcome led to 25 days of USDA-industry negotiations, after which the plant lastly recalled 530,000 kilos of floor beef. The PFGE sample (or DNA) for Kevin’s E. coli matched the PFGE sample of the recalled meat. 

Sadly, having a PFGE match is NOT ample proof to show {that a} producer is chargeable for a specific sickness. We wanted to indicate that Kevin had consumed the recalled meat. We knew that two of the three burgers he’d eaten the week earlier than he grew to become unwell had been constituted of meat bought on the similar retailer. To find out if the retailer had acquired its meat from the producer that had issued the recall, we would want to see the distribution information.

Once more, we had been in for a shock. The USDA considers these information proprietary, and wouldn’t give them to us. We had been pressured to ask the meat producer to offer us with its information, however the producer was unable to find these information, so we couldn’t decide whether or not the suppliers/retailers had acquired their meat from that producer. Not giving up, we shifted our method, and requested the retailer to offer its information. Nonetheless, as there isn’t a legislation requiring retailers to share such information, they refused. After a lot consideration and deliberation, we felt we had no different alternative; in July 2004, we filed a lawsuit so we may subpoena the producer’s and the retailers’ information. We didn’t do that flippantly. We consider we owed it to Kevin – and to our surviving kids – to search out out what had occurred to our son.

Regardless of our greatest efforts, we had been in the end not in a position to show conclusively that the recalled meat had induced Kevin’s sickness, and we dropped our lawsuit. It’s arduous figuring out that these chargeable for producing the faulty product that killed our baby won’t be held accountable. Some folks stated we had been within the cash however that’s not true. We simply needed to know what occurred to our baby. We needed to stop it from taking place to different folks. When all is alleged and completed, accountability fosters duty.

What occurred to our son is a tragedy that our household lives with every single day. Sadly, Kevin will not be alone. Annually in america, hundreds of People undergo and die from preventable foodborne sickness.

We refused to let Kevin’s dying be in useless; we don’t need one other household to need to undergo as ours did. Since then, we now have been devoted to stopping severe foodborne sickness. In 2006, we based the Middle for Foodborne Sickness Analysis & Prevention. CFI has made nice strides in the direction of stopping foodborne sickness—domestically, nationally, and globally.

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