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A.J. is Wired and Waiting to Go Home

By Julie Peterson Seattle Times staff reporter

A.J. Almquist was one wired 10-year-old. Or “hyper,” as he called it.

With his last blood transfusion yesterday and his release from Children’s Hospital & Regional Medical Center, the fifth-grader was one step closer to going home to Kennewick.

Al and Gerri Almquist were nearly as excited as they watched their son literally bounce off the walls last night at Kid’s Village, an outpatient facility for children operated by Children’s Hospital.

Just three weeks ago, A.J. was one of 11 students from Finley Elementary School in Kennewick who were hospitalized after contracting E. coli strain 0157:H7. Health officials think the students contracted the disease from tacos served in the school cafeteria.

A.J. is the last of the kids to go home after the outbreak. Last night he went to his cousin’s house in Ballard for a swim – his first outing in nearly two weeks. His parents hope to take him home to Kennewick by the weekend.

He said he looks forward to racing his dirt bike, playing baseball and seeing his best friend E.J. Watt.

Al and Gerri Almquist are ready to get back to their home, their jobs and the rest of their family, including their daughters Kristi, 29, and Allison, 14.

But for the next couple of days, they’ll stay at Kid’s Village while A.J. has a few more blood tests. Doctors also will closely monitor his blood pressure, which remains high.

“The hardest part for us is A.J.’s blood pressure has to be monitored four times a day, and he has to take medication,” Al Almquist said. Doctors don’t know if he will need to take the medication over the long term. A.J.’s blood pressure could go down by itself as he gets healthier.

As a result of A.J.’s ordeal, his parents have become well-versed in ways to avoid E. coli contamination. They stress the importance of urging children to wash their hands, and of using healthy food-preparation methods, including cooking meat well.

“If a mother knew what their kid would go through, maybe they’d take food preparation and washing more seriously,” Gerri Almquist said.

When A.J. started complaining about a stomach ache a few days after Oct. 6, the last thing on his parents’ minds was E. coli.

But after the diarrhea went from bad to worse, Gerri Almquist said, they went to their doctor in Kennewick, who called Children’s Hospital in Seattle to coordinate care.

“I just felt helpless. There was nothing they could do, and as a parent you’re supposed to make it go away,” she said.

It basically poisoned his blood, she said. He had severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, migraine headaches and vomiting.

There is little doctors can do in E. coli cases, except keep the patient hydrated so the bacteria can be flushed through the system.

Both parents are thankful for the support from friends and family.

“We’d like to thank everybody who gave their support,” Al Almquist said last night. “From the guy who gave blood, to the cards and letters, and we really appreciate the doctors and the hospital.”

Health officials are still investigating the E. coli outbreak at Finley, said Dr. Marcia Goldoft, a medical epidemiologist for the state Department of Health. She said the situation mirrors the September E. coli outbreak at the Puyallup Fair, where many people ate at the same place and were in the same areas, but relatively few were infected.

It’s not the same fingerprint as Puyallup, but they are both E. coli 0157:H7, Goldoft said. Both tend to be a beef-associated problem.

Trying to pinpoint why and how each person came in contact with the bacteria is difficult to do. “The variables are incredible,” Goldoft said.

Results for the Puyallup Fair tests are expected to be back within a few weeks. Finley’s results will take longer.

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