Salmonella fears resonate with local residents who've suffered from food-borne illnesses

Source of Article: http://www.sctimes.com/article/20090310/NEWS01/103100044/1009

 

By Kirsti Marohn kmarohn@stcloudtimes.com March 10, 2009

          

Michael Roeder recently applied for life insurance, but the seemingly healthy college student and active snowboarder was denied.

Isabelle Reinert is a thriving 3-year-old who loves Barbies and will start preschool in the fall, but she tends to catch more colds than other children.

Stephanie Smith remains in a wheelchair, fighting to walk and dance once again.

For some St. Cloud-area survivors of life-threatening food-borne illnesses, the recent peanut butter-related salmonella outbreak that is believed to have killed nine people and sickened about 670 sparked emotional memories and empathy for the victims.

They're still coping with the effects of their own illnesses: medical complications, legal battles, or in some cases, trying to make healthier choices to avoid the risk of getting sick again.

"I'm so cautious on what we buy for food," said Amy Reinert of Sauk Rapids, whose daughter Isabelle contracted salmonella poisoning in 2007 after eating a tainted pot pie. "This whole peanut butter thing has scared me to death."

Isabelle was 19 months old when she got sick, requiring outpatient treatment that included multiple days of intravenous antibiotics and fluids. The Banquet brand pot pie she ate was part of a batch later recalled by Missouri-based ConAgra.

The Reinerts have ended their lawsuit against ConAgra and won't discuss details of the settlement. Her mother says Isabelle is doing great, although it took about four months before her stomachaches and bloating subsided. Her immune system still seems a bit weaker than normal.

"She's a lot more prone to catching stuff," her mother said.

About 80 percent of the food Amy Reinert buys now is organic, and she's become an avid label reader.

Even more than most, she can sympathize with those who have gotten sick or lost loved ones to the salmonella outbreak.

"I totally feel for anybody who has children suffering from it or adults, because it's horrible," she said.

Lifelong effects

Michael Roeder was a healthy 20-year-old marketing major at St. Cloud State University when he contracted E. coli in 2006.

He developed a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, caused when E. coli toxins enter the bloodstream. It affects about 5 percent of E. coli sufferers.

Roeder, originally from Clearwater, spent about eight weeks in the hospital, including a couple days on life support. Doctors told him he might need a kidney transplant.

Instead, Roeder recovered and is back to classes at St. Cloud State and working. Still, he has faced some unexpected side effects. He was denied life insurance coverage because of protein in his urine, so now he's taking blood pressure medication to help repair the damage to his kidneys. Roeder expects he'll need to take it for the rest of his life.

Roeder believes he probably contracted E. coli from eating ground beef. He hasn't given up meat altogether, but is a bit more cautious now.

"When I do eat red meat, I like to have it well done," he said.

Slow progress

Stephanie Smith of Cold Spring was a 20-year-old dance instructor when she contracted E. coli after eating a hamburger at a family barbecue in 2007.

She also developed HUS and spent nine months in the hospital, including two months in a medically induced coma to prevent seizures.

Smith returned home to Cold Spring in June. Her recovery has been much slower than the 21-year-old would like.

During physical therapy sessions at CentraCare Health Plaza in Sartell, Smith works at building strength and balance by sitting on a special seat that records her movement.

With a belt strapped around her waist, she leans from side to side, watching an electronic screen that resembles a video game. She tries to maneuver a figure on the screen into a little box.

Later, she lies on her back with her knees bent and tries to lift each leg into the air.

"Kick that muscle. Hold it up there," urges her physical therapist, Lisa Barker. She helps by lifting Smith's foot, clad in a stylish plaid sneaker. "Come on, kick, kick, kick."

When asked how she feels she's doing, Smith answers softly, "Crappy."

She wants to be able to walk again, Barker says. But so far, she doesn't have the muscle strength required to lift her legs forward.

"We haven't really been able to attack that like we'd like," Barker said.

Still, Smith has regained balance and is better able to transfer herself from her wheelchair to a bed or chair, Barker said. She can stand at home for an hour using a supportive frame and even stands on her own for short periods.

"It's a long battle," Barker said.

Smith's mother, Sharon, says she feels ill when she hears about the victims of the salmonella outbreak.

"I feel so bad in my heart, because I know what they're going to go through," she said.

Sharon Smith has been juggling taking care of her daughter and getting her to physical therapy appointments while still holding on to job as a Dairy Queen manager.

But she isn't complaining, and said she's extremely grateful for the prayers and financial support people have offered throughout the ordeal.

"Every day I wake up and say, 'Thank you, God,' " she said. "I don't care how difficult it is."

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