Right up until the time of her death, June Dunning remained an active, self-aware, and outgoing woman. Her health had always been good. For the last seven years of her life, she lived in Hagerstown, Maryland with her daughter and son-in-law. On August 28, 2006, June consumed a small amount of Dole baby spinach from a bag her daughter had purchased at the local grocery store days earlier. The source of part of that spinach was a small, organic farm in California that had sold its spinach, not to customers directly, not to a local restaurant, grocery store or farmer’s market, but to a broker for further processing. The bag of spinach later tested positive for a pathogenic strain of non-O157:H7 E. coli.
June fell ill on September 2, 2006. Her illness quickly progressed and she was taken to the hospital the following day. She was first seen by a triage nurse, who noted that June had experienced a sudden onset of diarrhea the night before, which had progressed to bloody stools and severe abdominal pain in the morning. June rated her pain at “9” on a 10 point scale. Further examination and blood tests revealed a number of disturbing problems. A CT scan showed diffuse thickening and swelling of the colon, with severe, acute inflammatory colitis of the ascending and transverse colon. Her blood pressure was elevated and she was beginning to show signs of renal insufficiency. Concerned about her worsening condition, her physician admitted her to the hospital and started her on intravenous fluids.
Admission to the hospital did not slow the deterioration of June’s condition. She began to lose her mental faculties. She spoke, but her words did not make sense. She often spoke of going to see her husband, who has passed away ten years prior. All the while, she continued to suffer from frequent, painful bloody diarrhea. Her renal failure worsened. Her doctors were concerned that the colitis would soon lead to systemic toxemia, and thus determined that she needed surgical removal of a portion of her colon.
June survived the surgery, but her overall health continued to deteriorate. She became anemic and was placed in the intensive care unit. She soon stopped producing urine, and progressed to a coma-like state. In the early morning hours of September 7, she suffered a grand mal seizure. On September 9, she suffered another seizure, followed by a drop in her oxygen levels. In reaction to her failing bodily functions, she was placed on mechanical ventilation. By this point in the hospitalization, her medical bills totaled nearly $50,000.
From this point forward, it was painfully clear what the unfortunate outcome of June’s condition would be. An EEG on September 11 showed slowing brain activity. Her daughter and son-in-law stayed with her for the final hours. Late in the evening on September 11, the ventilator and all medical support except for morphine were disconnected. The doctors said they expected June to pass within the hour. Instead, she persevered without life-support. For the majority of the next 36 hours, she appeared to be resting comfortably. In one frightening episode during the early hours of September 12, however, she experienced one final seizure. She gripped her daughter’s hand, eyes wide open, moaning and sighing. Thankfully, the seizure passed. June clung to life until just after dawn on September 13, passing away at 6:45 AM.