Couple fear for daughter's health: Their son was sickened in E. coli outbreak


With their 6-year-old son already hospitalized with E. coli-related complications, a Brookfield couple wonders if their 3-year-old daughter might also be among those sickened in a nationwide outbreak of the bacteria linked to tainted spinach.

Anne Grintjes said that her daughter is now complaining of stomach cramps, a symptom her son had before being hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome on Sept. 8.

The syndrome is a potentially fatal E. coli complication that can lead to serious kidney damage.

"It could be completely unrelated, but it's very difficult for us now," Grintjes said.

Wisconsin has been hit the hardest in the outbreak.

On Saturday, Milwaukee health officials said two additional cases had been confirmed in the state. The state's 32 confirmed cases include 26 females and six males.

At least 94 people in 20 states have been sickened by the bacteria.

Federal officials say that at least 14 people nationwide have been diagnosed with the syndrome. Wisconsin officials report that four people here have been hospitalized with the syndrome.

The bacteria has been blamed for the death of a 77-year-old Manitowoc woman.

The Milwaukee Health Department, which reported five confirmed cases, says two new reports of E. coli infection were received late last week, though confirmation testing has not been done on those samples.

Local health officials believe the number of new cases found in the Milwaukee area is slowing.

"We're getting farther and farther away from the smoking gun," said Paul Biedrzycki, Milwaukee's manager of disease control and prevention.

On Friday, California-based Natural Selection Foods voluntarily recalled its pre-packaged spinach and salad mixes containing spinach.

Federal officials said that although they have not isolated any E. coli bacteria from spinach packed by the company, many patients have reported eating the company's products.

Bill Marler of the Seattle-based law firm Marler Clark said that his firm will update suits filed against Dole Food Co. in Wisconsin and Oregon to include Natural Selection Foods.

Among Marler's clients are Anna and Paul Zientek, a Milwaukee couple whose 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter developed E. coli-related syndrome after eating salads made from a package of Dole baby spinach they purchased on Aug. 25. Although the 6-yea r-old boy was released from Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa on Thursday, his sister remains hospitalized.

The family has requested that no information be released on their daughter's condition.

Anne Grintjes' husband, Neil, said that in late August their son also ate the majority of baby spinach from a bag that had a "Best If Used by Date" of Sept. 8. He says their 3-year-old girl took a few bites but spit most of it out. She did eat carrots tha t might have come in contact with the spinach, however, Anne Grintjes said.

The 6-year-old boy became ill on Sept. 2, suffering from vomiting and diarrhea. He was seen by his pediatrician and hospitalized on Sept. 8.

"He got very sick very fast," his mother said. "He turned yellow-gray; I knew he had to be hospitalized."

"My wife and I have been frustrated trying to figure this out," Neil Grintjes said. "My son is going to have a different outlook on vegetables now."

Anne Grintjes said that her son has had two blood transfusions and had extreme difficulty eating and walking. He managed, however, to eat a hefty meal on Friday -- two tacos.

State health officials are testing samples of spinach taken from some of the families who were sickened, including the Grintjeses.

Although most strains of E. coli are harmless and live naturally in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, the E. coli O157:H7 bacterium releases a toxin that's absorbed by the intestine and enters the bloodstream.

That type of E. coli affects as many as 73,000 Americans a year and kills 61, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

In one of the nation's most highly publicized outbreaks of E. coli, Brianna Kriefall, 3, of South Milwaukee died July 28, 2000, after a weeklong battle with the E. coli-related syndrome. She ate contaminated watermelon at the salad bar of the Sizzler at 7 89 W. Layton Ave., which has since closed.

In October 2000, more than 30 children from Bethesda Elementary School in Waukesha were sickened, including three confirmed cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, after a seriously ill child contaminated a school food bar.

And in August 2001, infections were confirmed in 25 people who attended the Ozaukee County Fair. Nearly 200 people reported some symptoms in that outbreak, which was attributed to their touching animals and then not washing their hands before eating.

what to do

If you have bagged spinach or a salad blend that includes spinach, throw it out or return it to the store where you bought it.

If you think you may have symptoms of E. coli infection, see your doctor.