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Tomato-Pepper Salmonella: Why the Grubbs are Suing Wal-Mart

Dolores, CO: "Truckloads of contaminated jalapenos were turned back at the border before we bought them at Wal-Mart," says Cheryl Grubbs, "so why did Wal-Mart still have them in their store?" Her husband, Brian Grubbs, almost died from the tomato/pepper salmonella outbreak, and Cheryl is furious because his illness could have been avoided.

Cheryl is also hopping mad wondering how many others got sick. "Many people around here can't even afford a doctor," she says. "We have three grocery stores where I live and Wal-Mart, being the biggest and cheapest, has always been the store of choice. And around here, our economy is low. But I won't be shopping at Wal-Mart anymore."

Some people have inferred that the Grubbs family is trying to "make a quick buck" from this lawsuit, but Cheryl believes that someone has to be accountable. Brian Grubbs is lucky to be alive today.

"We were having a big picnic in the mountains and purchased about 30 jalapeno peppers at Wal-Mart," says Cheryl. "Our family eats them like apples—it’s a southwest kind of thing. My intention was to make stuffed jalapenos but we got too busy, so over a three-day event, some of us ate raw peppers and others ate them barbecued. I took the rest home and put them in the fridge and during the week my husband continued to eat them with his meals.

Late in the evening on July 3rd Brian got sick. He was feverish, vomiting, and aching all over and figured he got some kind of bug, maybe a cold. But I was concerned because he never gets sick and has an iron stomach. The next day Brian went to work but by 10am he called and said he was too sick to work. We have a catering service and had a big job for July 4th weekend. Poor Brian; he was either sitting in his pickup, directing our helpers, or on the toilet. I brought him Imodium, Gatorade, water and Tylenol and tried to make him comfortable but nothing worked.

I took him home that day around 6pm and he continued to be sick throughout the night. And he was exhausted. I noticed his weight had gone down and he had dark circles around his eyes, but Brian thought he might get better. Not so: it got to the point where he couldn't eat or drink. Typical man, he still didn't want to see the doctor. And the doctor is about 60 miles away so it was time consuming and financially a problem. And Brian didn't want to be an imposition—he just needed a quiet day at home to heal.

I woke around 6am Sunday morning and Brian asked me to take him to the hospital. That woke me right up! 'Look at my mouth', he said. His gums, the roof of his mouth and tongue were black. I was absolutely terrified but tried to remain composed for our 15-year-old son. My sister--who was visiting us--was so terrified she packed up and went back to California, fearing it was contagious. (She is in the medical field and told me afterwards when that happens, you usually die.)

On our way to hospital Brian told me he prayed all night that he would wake in the morning. He was scared too. When we got there, I had to get a wheelchair—Brian couldn't even stand up. The first thing they asked was if Brian had eaten any tomatoes. I found out later that they had seen several cases of salmonella, so Brian wasn't the first case. But he was sick weeks after the tomato scare and we hadn't bought any tomatoes until we heard that the outbreak was over. How could he have salmonella poisoning?

As well, we were led to believe from the media that the salmonella outbreak was coming from restaurants, not from local markets—we hadn't eaten in any restaurants.

Brian lost about 14 lbs in four days, but the main concern was his kidneys. Brian had a disease 20 years ago that left him with the function of one kidney and now his creatinine level (that indicates kidney function) had jumped up over a point and that was very dangerous. His internal organs were beginning to shut down, including his liver. The doctor also said, because of the stress his body was under, Brian was lucky he didn't have a stroke or heart attack. He is our number one man and this was not good--he has kids and grandkids.

They immediately started hydrating him and at home he was put on a special diet of clear liquids and lots of water. At this point we didn't know the jalapenos were contaminated and we still had some in the fridge!

The next day the hospital called to tell us he had salmonella that was off the charts and that I needed to go back to the hospital immediately to get his medicine.

Next I called my local health department and tried to get the word out that we had salmonella here in town. All I got was someone's voice mail and that made me furious. We live in a small community and nobody was paying attention. Nearby Weld County had posted a salmonella outbreak online so why wouldn't we have our area posted online? I was trying to do research to find out what to do, to protect my family and do my civic duty. I have babies here—what if they had eaten the jalapenos?

Three days later I got a call from a woman at Grand Junction Health Department about 120 miles away, saying she 'heard a rumor' about someone with salmonella. Rumor my ass! Then I got a call from the head nurse at our local health department: she apologized because her staff didn’t handle this correctly. After going through all these channels, whose duty is it to report salmonella? Is it mine, do I call the newspaper, who is responsible for this?

The county nurse told me to bring any tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, cilantro and tortillas and she would have them sent to Denver to be checked. I did have jalapenos, onions and tortillas.

I called Denver again and found out Brian's stool sample and the peppers had the same DNA fingerprint for Salmonella saint paul. That was the first time we heard about the peppers. By now it was July 24th and I had reported to them on the 7th!

At this point I was furious with the health department. Why do we pay taxes? Homeland security is scamming us. Where is the FDA? Where are people who are supposed to be helping us? My blood was boiling…I went online and typed "lawyers, salmonella." I need someone to help us and Marler Clark law firm came up. I sent everything to Bill Marler.

On July 29th our local newspaper printed an article about Brian's sickness and that he had contracted salmonella.

Brian went back to the doctor. Although his creatinine level was down, he didn't know of potential long-term effects. To this day Brian has a sensitive stomach and he can't tolerate anything spicy—definitely no jalapenos. He is still fatigued and hasn't gained his weight back. And it has taken an emotional toll: he is not the same man, having the idea of leaving his family has effected him. How many years has this taken off his life? Now anger is setting in."

On September 16th, Cheryl Grubbs will discuss their jalapeno salmonella lawsuit with LawyersandSettlements.

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