For those that have not walked the halls of Congress trying to get politicians to pay attention to real issues, you may not appreciate what seven of your fellow citizens did this last week. However, I have and I do – and, we all should appreciate what these people, my former clients and friends, did for all of us.
Each of them took time out of their lives to travel to Washington D.C. to tell their own or a family member’s story about what can happen to food production when industry gets it wrong and government does not have the power or money for oversight.
So, who were these people that represented us in the halls of power?
- Kelly was part of a 2008 Romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak that sickened several and put her in the hospital for over a week where she developed hemolytic uremic syndrome and incurred over $125,000 in medical bills. All of this while her husband was fighting in Iraq and she had responsibility for two small children.
- Paul is the son of his namesake Paul Sr. Paul Sr. was an active, spry 92-year-old, who loved to golf and loved his wife Rosellen. Paul Sr. earned two purple hearts in WWII and died after eating a US grown cantaloupe tainted with Listeria in 2011. He died an agonizing death two months after eating the tainted fruit after incurring nearly $200,000 in medical expenses. Paul Sr. was one of 33 who died in the largest foodborne illness death toll in the US in over 50 years.
- Angela is the mother of Mariah and Celia who both suffered Salmonella infections in 2012 in yet another cantaloupe outbreak – this time from Indiana. Although their medical bills were only $25,000, the children’s’ illnesses took a toll on the entire family.
- Merrill was part of a nationwide Listeria outbreak linked to imported cheese. Eventually, the numbers of ill would hit 22 with four deaths, including a baby. Merrill was lucky to survive, but spent weeks in the hospital, days in ICU and incurred $60,000 in medical expenses.
- Gabrielle has been an advocate on behalf of her son Chris who was one hundreds sickened – including nine reported deaths – in the 2009 Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella outbreak.
- Peter is the male version of Gabrielle. Peter, a Portland cop was outraged when he leaned that Salmonella-tainted peanut butter crackers that he and his wife had been feeding his son sickened his three-year-old son.
- Ken is the son-in-law of Ruby who needlessly died after eating E. coli-tainted spinach in the 2006 outbreak that sickened over 200 and killed five. Although 81-years-old at the time of her death, she was active and healthy. Ruby’s medical bills neared $100,000 as she struggled through the very painful last days of her life.
Although Kelly, Paul, Angela, Merrill, Gabrielle, Peter and Ken are unique in the fact that they have turned tragedy in to action, they are not unique in the fact that they truly represent what goes on every day in the US. The CDC says that 48,000,000 of us become sick each year do to the food that we eat and 125,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. This should be unacceptable to our politicians; it should be unacceptable to all of us.
Thankfully, we have Kelly, Paul, Angela, Merrill, Gabrielle, Peter and Ken representing us. We all owe them a thank you.