Elizabeth Weise from USA Today, who has covered most of the E. coli outbreaks over the last dozen years, did a great job in her article, “Family’s nightmare began with secondary infection.” Faith suffered with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome linked to a 1998 taco meal served at Finley Elementary School in rural Eastern Washington. Although Faith did not eat the taco meal, her sister and sister’s friends did. All experts at trial agreed that this “secondary contact” resulted in her infection.
Ms. Weise outlines the horror the family experienced during the acute phase of Faith’s illness:
“Faith "was in the hospital for 30 days, and she was on dialysis for 17," he [father John] says. He and his wife "just stayed at the parking lot for a while — we didn’t leave her side….”
It was a grim month. Faith’s skin turned yellowish as her kidneys stopped working. "You couldn’t touch her because she hurt all over," John says. Then she began to hallucinate. "She’d see little dark people running around on the floor."
Eventually John had to stop working. "They wanted me to go back on the road, and I just told them, ‘I can’t leave,’ " he says. Despite the financial struggle, he doesn’t regret it. "A job can be replaced, but your child can’t be."
And, what Faith and her family live with today:
Once Faith got home, the nightmare didn’t end. "She has to take so many medications, you just watch everything, bacterial, everything. She was on high blood pressure meds for a long time," her dad says.
Now if Faith she gets sick, her parents take her straight to the hospital. "You want to make sure to catch it in time," John says. She has to see specialists in Seattle every six months to get her kidney function checked. "They say it will never get better. We just hope it won’t get worse."
And, to those who think that all lawsuits are frivolous, keep reading:
It was hard suing the school district in the town he grew up in, but they had to do it, John says. "We had hospital bills coming at us, and we ended up having to file (for) bankruptcy," he says.
To pay their bills, the Maxwells joined in a suit with 10 other families against the Finley School District and the beef supplier. The district and Northern States Beef said there had never been E. coli O157:H7 in the ground beef. Northern States reached a confidential settlement with the families before the case went to trial.
John Maxwell is convinced Faith and the other children got sick because adults — at the meat company or the school district — were trying to save money by cutting corners.
School food shouldn’t be the cheapest possible, he says. "This is the future, this is our kids, they should have the best of everything," he says.
"All the money in the world isn’t worth the life of one child, especially if it’s your child. How would they feel if it were their child?"