Mac McLean appears to be single-handedly covering a growing, deadly, and as yet unexplained, E. coli outbreak (of multiple strains) in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. According to Mac, “with three new cases reported this week, the total number of E. coli cases affecting residents of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia now stands at 21.” But, the numbers do not tell the full story of what has happened, and happening, to families. Here is only part of the story:

ecoli-child.jpgWatching his 5-year-old daughter fight for her life in a hospital more than 300 miles from their Abingdon, Va., home is the last thing John Weaver expected when his family went to visit some relatives in a town that calls itself the “Sunniest Spot in all of Tennessee.”

But that’s exactly what happened after Zoey Weaver started showing symptoms of a potentially fatal Escherichia coli infection on the second day of her trip to Orlinda, Tenn. The girl is now at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where she is undergoing dialysis treatments and being fed through a tube.

“E. coli is a nasty thing,” Weaver said during a phone interview from his daughter’s hospital room in Nashville, Tenn. “There ain’t no medicine or pill that you can take for it. You’re pretty much helpless. All that you can do is wait.”

But Zoey’s experience also serves as a frightening reminder to a family caught by surprise earlier this month when two of their children developed STEC infections. That family came from Dryden, Va., a Lee County town about 90 minutes away from John Weaver’s house.

On June 5, Gabby Blair was rushed to the Johnson City Medical Center’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit when she and her 5-year-old brother, Lazarus, started showing signs of E. coli infections. The little girl died in the emergency room, but her brother survived after several days of intense medical treatment, also at Vanderbilt.

“We just really hate to hear about this,” said Kathy McElyea, the grandmother of Gabby and Lazarus, when she learned about what John Weaver and his family have been going through over the past two weeks. “We just feel so much for them and we are praying for them.”

And, to think this is happening to thousands of families in Europe is hard to imagine.