A heartbreaking lawsuit: Surviving cancer, done in by salmonella
Source of Article: http://www.startribune.com/local/38433109.html?elr=KArksLckD8EQDUoaEyqyP4O:DW3ckUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUnciaec8O7EyUsl
The family of a
Shirley Mae Almer seemed to be beating the odds. The 72-year-old
Instead, she died Dec. 21, and her children and grandchildren spent the holidays in grief.
They soon got a second shock.
Almer's daughter Ginger Lorentz, of Brainerd, said she served her mother peanut butter toast a week before she died. She said she prepared it in the nursing home, using the facility's peanut butter.
"It seemed so pointless -- with all the battles she overcame -- to have a piece of peanut butter toast take her," Lorentz said.
Now, 503 people in 43 states
have been infected by salmonella linked by DNA fingerprinting to peanut
butter produced in a
Lorentz said she doesn't blame
herself or the nursing home. The family on Monday sued the manufacturer,
Peanut Corp. of
Lorentz, her brother Jeff Almer of Savage and sister Vickie Hammes of Oakdale said in an interview that they believe their mother would be alive if she hadn't eaten tainted peanut butter.
Salmonella typically causes abdominal pain, nausea -- symptoms they say their mother suffered -- diarrhea and fever. The infection can be fatal in young, elderly or frail people.
"I am just sick of hearing about contaminated food, and now it hurts in the most personal way," Jeff Almer said.
A struggle back to health
was a mother of five and businesswoman who was president of the family's
bowling alley in Wadena, and later helped open another family-owned alley in
Brainerd. She retired five years ago and was found to have lung cancer in
2007, and her children worried. Yet her surgery at the University of
Minnesota Medical Center was pronounced a success, they said. In June she
When she returned from the trip, she suffered a seizure that sent her back to the U, where doctors treated a brain tumor with radiation. She spent two months in the hospital, and for a time she couldn't move some limbs.
"She got strong, she regained the use of all those limbs. They got to be normal," Jeff Almer said.
By October, she moved in with her daughter in Brainerd and spent weekends at her home in Perham. Then came another setback, a urinary tract infection that sent her to a transitional unit in Good Samaritan just after Thanksgiving. It was meant to be temporary, to regain strength, her family said.
"So we would bring her snacks and cookies and things like that," said Lorentz. "They had a little kitchenette in her wing and she liked peanut butter toast. So I made her peanut butter toast for two days in a row."
The family had planned to take her home Dec. 22. Yet the day before that, she became gravely ill.
"It went really fast," said Hammes, who visited her mother in a Brainerd hospital where she had been transferred. "She was not really coherent. I know she heard us. She could squeeze my hands."
By then, the state Health
Department was searching for clues to a salmonella outbreak that had struck
elsewhere in the country and turned up in
A phone call from the state
Nine days after her mother died, Lorentz said she got a call from a state epidemiologist. It was the first time that she had heard that her mother had been tested for salmonella and found to be infected with the strain afflicting people around the country. "She asked about chicken, and she asked about peanut butter," said Lorentz. "I said, 'Yes, I used to make her peanut butter toast.'"
Dr. Kirk Smith, who heads the department's foodborne disease investigative unit, said identifying victims at a long-term care facility -- as a policy, the department doesn't identify institutions or victims by name -- and testing its peanut butter were the keys to identifying the source of the outbreak. A series of recalls soon began, first of the bulk peanut butter and then of products made from it, including cookies, crackers, cereal, candy, ice cream and pet food.
Federal officials say the
contamination was traced back to the Peanut Corp. of
None of this happened in time
to help Clifford Tousignant, 78, who died Jan. 12
in another Brainerd nursing home operated the Good Samaritan Society, a
nonprofit based in
So far, the Almer
family is the first in
George Clarke, spokesman for
Peanut Corp. of
Hammes said the government needs to take notice.
"I really believe there needs to be reforms, and speaking out is the best way to do it," she said. "I know my mom would be proud of what we are doing right now."
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