Listeria deaths lead to lawsuit, Madoc family want changes

Posted By Luke Hendry Osprey News Network

Posted 6 hours ago


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Frances Clark led a private life, but her death from a bacterial outbreak has become public.

Now her children say they want to ensure no one else meets the same fate.

Clark, 89, died of listeriosis Aug. 25, less than a week after she fell ill.

That illness was later linked to listeria bacteria in processed meat from Maple Leaf Foods Inc.

"I still see my mother lying there unconscious trying to get a breath of air," Timothy Clark said Wednesday afternoon at his Madoc home. "It's been very unnerving ... I have nightmares about her death."

Now he and his sister Karen Clark, also of Madoc, are taking action.

Details of their mother's death and that of two other patients who died from effects of listeriosis are documented in affidavits filed in a Saskatchewan court this week.

It's part of a planned class-action lawsuit against Maple Leaf Foods involving more than 4,200 people.

In each case, complainants allege Maple Leaf failed to warn the public about the outbreak early enough to save lives. None of the accusations contained in the documents have been proven in court.

"The whole thing is to prevent this from ever happening again to anyone," said Timothy Clark. "The food processing plants need to be inspected more vigorously. (There should be bet-t er) communication between the in-plant inspectors and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. There needs to be more transparency there."

Clark, a paramedic, said had his family and others known his mother had eaten dangerous meat, her symptoms may have been recognized earlier as those of listeriosis.

Clark said he has been frustrated further by the lack of information available to the family about his mother's case.

When the Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit made public the link between his mother's death and listeria from tainted meat, he said, "We weren't included. I'd have liked to have known the results before they went public."

Clark said after media reported the health unit's findings, he telephoned Dr. Richard Schabas, the unit's medical officer of health and requested details of medical test results.

"He sent out the documents right away," said Clark. "He did apologize. It was just an oversight on their part, I'm sure."

Reached by telephone Wednesday night, Schabas said he couldn't comment on the case because Ontario law prevents him from speaking about specific cases of infectious diseases.

"I can't comment on anything related to an individual case," said Schabas. "I just can't say anything."

He said commenting would be a breach of privacy.

"There's a prohibition on my releasing any of that information unless under very special circumstances," Schabas said.

In a letter dated Sept. 17 and sent to Timothy Clark, the doctor offered his "deepest and most sincere condolences" on behalf of the organization.

The letter is an exhibit in Clark's affidavit.

In it, Schabas said Frances Clark was fed listeria-tainted Maple Leaf meat on July 15, July 22 and Aug. 5 while she was a patient at Belleville hospital and recovering from a fall.

Clark was discharged to Stirling Manor Nursing Home on Aug. 7, Schabas wrote. He added tainted meat "had been served at the facility as one of two menu options between Aug. 7 and 15, respectively.

"Both BGH and Stirling Manor removed recalled products promptly upon notification on Aug. 13 and Aug. 15, respectively," Schabas said in his letter.

Susan Rowe, spokeswoman for Quinte Health Care, confirmed ham processed by Maple Leaf was used in sandwiches for patients on the dates mentioned in the affidavit, but said who ate it cannot be determined.

"We know that ... ham sandwiches were served on those three days," Rowe said Wednesday.

She, too, said she cannot comment on specific cases.

"It is reasonable to assume that when we've got a menu for the day that a patient is served the meal and that they may or may not choose to eat it," said Rowe, noting she was speaking generally. "Our medical records do not show what any patient has eaten on any given day unless they're under very strict dietary controls."

Schabas' letter said Frances Clark began complaining of chest pain, feeling cold, and loss of appetite Aug. 20. Her condition worsened, he wrote, and on Aug. 22 she was taken to Campbellford Memorial Hospital. Clark died there Aug. 25. Her cause of death was listed as sepsis/listeriosis.

That same day, Schabas' letter said, the health unit received a lab-confirmed diagnosis of the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria in her blood samples.

The bottom line for the Clark family, as described in the court document, is that Maple Leaf "should not have put this killing product into the marketplace, recalled their contaminated meat products much sooner than they did and should have warned the public when they knew of the probable dangers, rather than delaying it as they did."

Earlier disclosure of the problem by Maple Leaf "could and I think would have saved my mother's life," it quotes Timothy Clark as saying.

"She might not have been served the Maple Leaf meat and earlier disclosure would have resulted in Stirling Manor staff, the medical staff at the hospital and the family ... being on heightened alert for listeriosis symptoms, resulting in timely treatment," he says in the document.

"The family's very upset, very upset," Clark said. "Emotionally we're just worn out. Personally I have nightmares about her death."

Clark said his family has faced criticism over their calls for action.

"You get a lot of negative comments," he said. "They'll make a statement like, 'People die. Things happen. It's a part of life.'

"It's easy to criticize and make these negative comments until it happens to you," he said, adding some people have asked whether he thinks "suing everyone" will make a difference. Clark said he does.

With regard to Maple Leaf, he said, "If they're responsible then they should be paying and they should be making corrections so these things don't happen again."

But any resolution may not be quick in coming, he said.

"It's all got to be proven out in court." In the meantime, he and his sister have answer media questions about it, even though being interviewed is painful.

"It just brings it all back again," he said, but added he realizes why there is interest in the case, and speaks out willingly.

"The reason we got into it in the first place was to put a face to the name," Clark said.

He said he and his sister wanted to show the listeria crisis affected real people.

"If we can bring enough attention to what happened, in some small way we may be able to prevent it from happening again. My mother was a very quiet, humble-type person. She probably wouldn't approve of what we're doing. She was very private," Clark said. "But if it helps save somebody else, that's why we're doing it. The rest of the people involved may not have become sick had this been known earlier. A lot of the family now won't eat processed meats again, period. I know I won't for the rest of my life."



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