E. coli victims recovering after eating tainted meat


It all started with hamburgers, one eaten at a cookout by Aurora teenager Natalie Jones and another by 5-year-old Alec Scholhamer at his grandmother's house in Longmont.

Days later, both children were wracked with painful intestinal cramps and bloody diarrhea, sickened by E. coli-tainted meat sold at Safeway grocery stores that now is part of a multistate recall by ConAgra Beef Co.

At least 16 other people have gotten sick in Colorado and South Dakota. Testing is under way to determine the source of other unconfirmed cases.

No deaths have been reported, but five people have been taken to hospitals for treatment.

The outbreak prompted the government to change the way they notify processing plants about tainted beef after inspectors acknowledged a 12-day lag from the time E. coli was first suspected at the Greeley-based ConAgra until a recall was issued.

"Any information that we have that would give reason to believe that our products might be suspect would be welcome and the sooner we have that information the sooner we can respond to it,'' said ConAgra spokesman Jim Herlihy.

ConAgra officials have apologized and said they will work with state health officials to offer assistance to the families of those sickened.

Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who has represented E. coli victims in other states, said he has talked with 10 families affected by the recall, including Alec's family.

Marler plans to meet with ConAgra officials later this week to discuss his clients' conditions and possible settlements.

"The reality is ConAgra and I may have a different opinion as to what they view as fair compensation and what, historically, I view as fair compensation,'' he said. "I'm hopeful we don't need to file a lawsuit.''

Alec's mother, Lisa Scannell, found him June 19 lying on the bathroom floor next to a toilet filled with blood, motionless and unresponsive. He was rushed to a Denver hospital, where he spent 13 days in intensive care as doctors tried to get his kidneys working again.

"The doctors said this could be fatal, that he could die,'' Scannell said Tuesday.

Jones went to two hospitals before doctors diagnosed her with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a virus caused by E. coli which destroys red blood cells and can cause kidney failure in severe cases.

She was put on dialysis. Doctors told her parents "it was a life and death situation,'' Jones said.

Both children were released from the hospital earlier this month, though it normally takes up to six weeks for those infected with E. coli to fully recover.

Alec feels fine but tells friends and family he ate "poison meat,'' and is afraid of doctors and people touching him, Scannell said.

"I just feel really weak,'' said Jones. "For about five days I was really nauseous. Now I'm a lot better but I just feel really weak.''