Appendix Removed, But it was the Bean Dip


BREMERTON -- Navy corpsman Ron Humphrey says he doesn't mind all that much that his appendix was removed, even though it didn't need to be. Although doctors operated on him, his abdominal pain persisted and was later linked to Shigella organisms from a Senor Felix five-layer fiesta dip he had eaten at a party, KIRO-TV reported yesterday.

The dip was recalled nationwide last Friday. "It's basically a useless organ, so I'm not too upset about it," the appendix-less Humphrey said with a shrug. The corpsman, a technician, awakened at 3 a.m. on Jan. 18 with abdominal pain and went to visit the chief medic of his submarine, which is stationed at Bangor Naval Submarine Base.

Chief Hospital Corpsman Mike Dalzell suspected appendicitis. "This is a young guy, healthy until about six hours previous, he has his appendix, and has most of the signs and symptoms of appendicitis so in my mind it was time to send him down to the hospital to a surgeon and let him decide whether or not it was appendicitis," Dalzell said.

After observing the man for hours, a surgeon at Bremerton Naval Hospital removed the appendix. The surgery went well, but the appendix was healthy and the pain did not stop. "I didn't know what to think. I was still scared. I thought it had gotten to the point it was really serious," Humphrey said. Later tests confirmed the pain was from shigellosis, a bacterial illness traced to Senor Felix bean dip that Humphrey had eaten at a party several days before he became ill. "I feel in my mind I did the right thing, I think the surgeon did the right thing, and . . . I wouldn't have done anything different," Dalzell said.

Hospital officials said the surgeon followed the correct standard of care. "Appendicitis is pretty serious so yes, they did an appendectomy right away," said Judith Robertson, a spokeswoman for Naval Hospital Bremerton. "At that time there was no indication that this is not what should have been done to possibly save this young man's life." Cmdr. Jim Schneider, department head of general surgery at the hospital, agreed.

Humphrey had a fever, an elevated white blood cell count, loose stools and pain in the appendix area, and initially could not recall having eaten any tainted food or been in contact with ill people, he said. All of those signs pointed to appendicitis, he said, and the risk of surgery was less in such a case than the risk of complications that might have resulted if the appendix had burst in a genuine case of appendicitis, he said.

The incident has been peer reviewed and found to meet standards of care, Schneider said, adding it is not uncommon to remove appendixes that turn out to be OK, simply because a high degree of caution is part of the standard of care.

More than 30 cases of shigellosis have been reported recently in Western Washington, and 16 of the victims said they had recently consumed the five-layer bean dip, the state Department of Health said Tuesday. Cases have also been reported in Oregon and California. The dips were sold under the names Senor Felix 5 Layer Fiesta Dip, Trader Joe's 5 Layer Fiesta Dip and Delicioso 5 Layer Fiesta Dip. They were made by Senor Felix of Baldwin Park, Calif., and were distributed nationwide, primarily through Costco and Trader Joe's.