I admittedly have much to be thankful for. I have three beautiful, talented daughters and a spectacular wife who has tolerated me for over 25 years. I am fortunate at Marler Clark to be surrounded by great staff and gifted lawyers. And, unlike many in my profession, I love my job. I am also daily honored by families that retain me to seek justice and change. After 21 years representing victims of foodborne illnesses in every state, it is impossible to make a list of clients I am especially thankful for, but here is my Turkey Day try:
Brianne Kiner – nine years old at the time when I represented her in the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, she suffered one of the worst of the illnesses. She developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, which caused her to become puffy and jaundiced. She began to bleed from every orifice in her body. Brianne would eventually slip into a coma, during which doctors removed her large intestine and hooked her heart, lungs, and kidneys up to machines to keep them functioning. Though expected to die, Bri eventually emerged from the coma, and began the slow process of recovery, to the extent she would be able to recover. Bri and I talk – not as frequently and we used to – but she has become a wonderful, caring young woman. Her story was told in the book Poisoned.
Mari Tardiff – In June 2008 Mari Tardiff began to experience acute diarrhea and vomiting, which eventually gave way to a searing pain in her legs. The night of June 12th, Mari went to bed after soaking her legs in hot water to get some temporary relief, and awoke to find she could not move her legs. She was admitted to the hospital, where the paralysis began to spread to the rest of her body. Despite being unable to move, she continued to feel intense pain instead of the numbness usually experienced by victims of paralysis. Doctors eventually diagnosed Mari with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a severe complication of Campylobacter infection in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. Mari’s case was linked to those of others who had developed Campylobacter infections from drinking raw milk produced by Alexandre EcoDairy Farms, a “cow-share” program in California. Mari spent almost six months in the hospital and in rehabilitation facilities, where she slowly learned to breathe again without a ventilator, and began to regain some of her speech and motion. She now lives at home in her family room, which has been outfitted with the equipment she needs, such as a hospital bed, stand-up frame, and Hoyer lift. Mari still is unable to walk without assistance, but her progress has been amazing.
Linda Rivera – In May 2009, when Linda Rivera dipped a spoon into the package of Nestle Toll House cookie dough she was using to make cookies for her twin sons’ prom party, she was unaware that she was also consuming a batch of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria that would eventually lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome. Four days later, Linda was admitted to the hospital, vomiting every five minutes. Doctors told her that E. coli was destroying her colon. They removed part of the organ, along with her gallbladder. Her kidneys and liver also shut down, and she was put into a medically induced coma. When she awoke, she went into cardiac arrest, and required emergency kidney dialysis. Linda spent the next year of her life in Las Vegas-area hospitals. She was given last rites in expectation of her death three times. In the 13th month of her illness, she was finally transported to a rehabilitation facility in San Francisco, where she remained for another year, learning to walk and communicate again. Linda, with the support of her amazing husband and family, was finally able to come home, where after a noble struggle with numerous health issues, she finally passed. I had the honor to speak at her memorial service.
Abby Fenstermaker – Abby Fenstermaker, who will be forever six, was admitted to the hospital on May 11, 2009 after ongoing diarrhea left her severely dehydrated. Her body hurt so badly that she sometimes cried out in pain. Abby had developed hemolytic uremic syndrome. Abby’s kidneys began to shut down. A chest x-ray revealed fluid building up around her lungs. She was eventually put on oxygen to facilitate breathing. The next day found Abby minimally responsive, and a brain scan revealed that she had likely suffered a massive stroke. She then slipped into a coma. Her condition declined further over the next two days until doctors finally proclaimed her brain-dead. On May 17, Abby’s parents requested that she be removed from life support, and, along with family and friends, said goodbye to their only daughter.
Richard Miller – On October 13, 2003, Richard Miller and his wife Linda stopped by Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Monaca, Pennsylvania to grab lunch, and left with a Hepatitis A virus. Later in the month, both fell ill with body aches, loss of appetite and energy, and jaundice. But while Linda recovered within a few days, Richard’s case grew more severe. When he became incoherent and unable to stand, he was admitted to the hospital, sedated and eventually put on life support. Richard ultimately required a liver transplant, during which he suffered cardiac arrest. He pulled through the operation, only to begin a new life.
Stephanie Smith – In October of 2007, Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation recalled 847,000 pounds of frozen ground beef patties after they were found to be the source of a particularly virulent strain of E. coli O157:H7 that sickened 11 people. Stephanie Smith, a 22-year-old dance instructor from Cold Spring, Minnesota, suffered the worst injuries of the victims of the E. coli outbreak traced to Cargill meat. She developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, which shut down her kidneys and led to such frequent seizures that she was put into a medically induced coma for nine months. She emerged from the coma with brain damage, paralyzed from the waist down. A 2009 New York Times article by Michael Moss chronicling Stephanie Smith’s experience with E. coli won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. The article traces her hamburger back to the day it was made, looking at how it and other ground beef patties are produced. It also investigates the shortcomings of ground beef regulation that increase the risk of E. coli contamination. The article spurred sympathy for Stephanie and raised awareness of the problems associated with beef production in the United States.
Jeff Almer – Over 714 people in 46 states became ill with Salmonella Typhimurium infections after consuming peanut and peanut butter products produced in 2008 and 2009 by Peanut Corporation of America confirmed. Nine people died, including Jeff’s mom. Jeff has been a tireless food safety advocate and seeker of justice for his mom.
Cantaloupe Listeria Clients – For the last three years Marler Clark has represented the families of 46 victims of the 2011 Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe grown by Jensen Farms. The firm has pursued compensation from Jensen Farms, the firms that audited the farm’s food safety practices, the companies that distributed the Listeria-contaminated cantaloupes and the retailers that sold the unsafe food. We have also seen the criminal justice system work and have been more that proud of many of the clients who have told their stories and helped push a reluctant food safety system forward.
Honored, proud and thankful.