Mother, daughter advocate for food safety
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April 27, 2009 07:01 AM PDT

In the past several years, there have been several outbreaks of food borne illnesses, like Salmonella and E-Coli. Some of the tainted foods included tomatoes, beef, lettuce, and the latest: peanuts and pistachios. One local girl knows first-hand what it's like to suffer from a food borne illness.

When Rylee Gustafson was just nine years old, she contracted E-Coli from tainted spinach. This week, she and her mother will testify in front of a Congressional committee in Washington, D.C. that's working to impose stricter guidelines on the food we eat. News 3's Dan Ball has her story.

Today, 11-year-old Rylee Gustafson is a healthy, active girl. But that wasn't the case just a few years ago.

"I felt really horrible. I felt like something really bad was in my stomach. I felt like I was going to throw up a lot and I couldn't stop. And I had really bad cramps."

Back in August of 2006, Rylee's family took a trip to San Francisco. On the way there, Rylee became sick.

"They couldn't get her blood pressure, so they sent us to an area emergency room," says her mother Kathleen.

Dan Ball: Rylee, were you scared?

Rylee: Of course I was scared. I remember when I was at the hospital, I felt so bad that I told my dad I thought I was going to die.

What Rylee, her parents, and her doctors didn't know at first was that the day before, Rylee consumed E-Coli-tainted spinach.

"They realized her kidneys shut down, she stopped making urine, she's going to need dialysis. You didn't know what was going to happen next," recalls Kathleen.

The bacteria caused her brain to swell, fluid to surround her heart and fill her lungs, she developed diabetes, and was temporarily blind and deaf.

"It's so difficult to sit there and watch your child get progressively worse every day. There was one day where her blood pressure got so low that the doctor pulled us aside and said she might not make it."

After 36 days in the hospital and months of treatment, Rylee is fully recovered two-and-a-half years later.

"I'm feeling good," she says. "I'm back in school, I'm still dancing, I'm doing Japanese school, I still use my brain, and I'm always running like wild."

Since Rylee's E-Coli poisoning, she and her mother Kathleen have become advocates for the organization STOP: Safe Tables Our Priority. The group has pressured Congress to create the Food Safety Modernization Act, currently up for approval.

This Wednesday, mother and daughter will head to our nation's capitol to tell politicians about Rylee's near-death experience.

"As a consumer, you don't know if what you're eating is contaminated," says Kathleen. "I hope we can have some bipartisan action come through that protects us, protects all consumers. I hope they finally get to realize that this is a big deal and everybody should be conscious of it, even them. Because what if their child or grandchild gets sick? They would want this to stop."

Visit the Centers for Disease Control web site for several warning signs of food borne illnesses.



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