Salem woman wasn’t expected to live
Her family sues Dole because of E. coli outbreak
Her abdomen is sore, and her arms are covered with purple bruises.
Her kidneys and lungs are working at less than full capacity.
All because she ate one of her favorite foods: a spinach salad.
Gwyn Wellborn of Salem is recovering from a brush with death from E. coli poisoning that was traced to a bag of Dole baby spinach she bought Aug. 21 at WinCo Foods on Lancaster Drive NE.
The 27-year-old wife and mother developed a rare complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, a disease that affects the kidneys and the blood-clotting system.
She was in intensive care for several days, and doctors at Salem Hospital didn’t expect her to survive.
But several blood transfusions and plasma exchanges later, and after being transferred to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Wellborn pulled through.
She now is home recovering with her husband, David, and their 21-month-old son, Dylan.
“I’m beyond lucky,” Gwyn Wellborn said. “The doctors said if I had nine lives, I used every single one of them.”
About the same time the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers about a nationwide outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 stemming from bagged fresh spinach, the law firm Marler Clark filed a personal-injury action suit against Dole Food Co. on behalf of the Wellborns.
The Seattle firm has represented thousands of victims of food poisoning, including some of the people sickened a year ago in a similar outbreak traced to bags of Dole lettuce, attorney Bill Marler said.
David Wellborn contacted Marler Clark after learning about the firm while doing Internet research about HUS.
“I was impressed with the knowledge they had,” David Wellborn said.
Bill Marler told the Statesman Journal he has tried and settled $250 million in E. coli poisoning cases during the past 13 years.
The Wellborns are suing Dole for damages including general pain and suffering and medical-related expenses. No monetary amount is listed in the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Portland.
Dole has not been singled out as the only culprit in the nationwide E. coli outbreak. An investigation is ongoing in eight states, including Oregon.
Four other cases of E. coli poisoning in Oregon have been confirmed, according to the Oregon Public Health Division of the Department of Human Services.
Gwyn Wellborn’s case was extreme.
She bought the bag of spinach Aug. 21 and ate it for lunch from Aug. 22-25.
No one else in her family ate from the bag, nor did any of her co-workers at the downtown branch of Fidelity National Title Company of Oregon, where she is an escrow assistant.
“I’m not much of a salad guy,” her husband said. “But she eats it for lunch a lot.”
Almost every day, Gwyn said. But that likely will change.
“Now I’m about to eat deep-fried everything,” she said with a laugh.
Gwyn was admitted to Salem Hospital on Aug. 27, according to the lawsuit. Her symptoms, including abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea, continued to worsen.
About the fifth day she was in the hospital, a doctor pulled her husband and her mother aside and told them that there was nothing more he could do and that he didn’t expect Gwyn to make it. The doctor then broke the news to Gwyn.
“When you have a 1Œ-year-old in the waiting room,” Gwyn said, “it’s a little more terrifying.”
After being transferred to OHSU and being hooked up to a BiPAP machine to help her breathe — she had fluid in her lungs — she told her husband that she was worried that she wouldn’t get to see Dylan grow up.
“Unfortunately, that was our reality,” David Wellborn said.
David and Gwyn grew up in Stayton and were high school sweethearts. They have been together for 12 years and married for four years. He was terrified that he would lose the love of his life.
“I tried to stay strong so she wouldn’t see me scared,” he said.
After several plasma exchanges, in which the plasma from her blood was removed and replaced by donor plasma, Gwyn started to recover. She credits the doctors at OHSU for saving her life.
Gwyn was discharged Sept. 8.
The bruises and water weight eventually will go away. While in the hospital, she gained 25 pounds in
13 days because of kidney failure. She said Thursday evening that she already has lost 14 of those pounds and is getting stronger every day.
Her kidneys are operating at 25 percent capacity, so she will have to see a specialist.
The Wellborns have insurance but realize that the medical bills are mounting. David said he has yet to see the total from the two hospitals, “but I believe eight or nine days in ICU probably isn’t cheap.”