A victim of the June 2008 lettuce E. coli outbreak in Thurston and Pierce
counties filed suit today in the Superior Court of Washington, King County.
Heather Whybrew of Federal Way, Washington
was a student at Pacific Lutheran University
in Parkland when she was infected with E.
coli O157:H7. The lawsuit was filed against Northwest Fruit and Produce
Inc and “John Does,” Growers, Shippers and Suppliers by attorney William Marler and Marler Clark, a Seattle
law firm dedicated to representing victims of foodborne
Ten people were sickened in the outbreak, which was traced to bagged,
commercial romaine lettuce manufactured and distributed by Northwest Produce
to food service locations including Pacific Lutheran University (PLU).
Ms. Whybrew fell ill on May 16, after taking all of
her meals at PLU. She experienced cramping, nausea, and diarrhea, which
became bloody the next day. In extreme pain, she went to the school
health center, and was told to go to the emergency room. She was
admitted to the hospital in Federal
where she tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. Ms. Whybrew
battled the E. coli infection over the next week, developing pneumonia as
well as blood clots in her extremities and IV insertion sites, for which she
required Heparin, a blood thinner. When kidney irregularities emerged,
she was transferred to Children’s Hospital in Seattle, where she remained until June
6. She was hospitalized for 20 days. She continues to recover
from the infection and its complications—she must give herself two Heparin
shots daily in the abdomen to keep blood clots at bay.
“Leafy greens from California
are the sleeping giant,” said Whybrew’s attorney
William Marler. Once E. coli O157:H7 gets
on—or into—the product, it is almost impossible to wash off. A tiny
number of bacteria can sicken or even kill. Positive changes were made
after the terrible spinach E coli O157:H7 outbreak in 2006, but this outbreak
and others indicate that there are still problems in the system. Salinas, California
is again suspected as being the source of the lettuce that sickened Heather
and nine others, and that is where regulation is the tightest. There’s
clearly a great deal of work still to do.”
“I have a very high tolerance for pain,” said Ms. Whybrew
in a statement. “I have experienced sports injuries, undergone
reconstructive surgery, and have had a crainiotomy
to remove a brain tumor. I have had chemo and a difficult rehab from
partial paralysis—but I have never experienced anything like the pain from E.
coli O157:H7 infection.”
E. coli O157:H7 is often contracted by consuming food or beverage that has
been contaminated by animal (especially cattle) manure. The majority of
food borne E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks has been traced to contaminated ground
beef; however leafy vegetables that have been contaminated in fields or
during processing have been increasingly identified as the source of outbreaks.