Tyana Grundig, Greg Sadler and Asha Tomlinson report for CBC’s Marketplace (see below) that the last decade has seen recall after recall of tainted romaine lettuce coming into Canada from the United States. At least seven people have died, and hundreds have been sickened or hospitalized in both countries.
In the fall of 2018, his parents, Nathan Parker and Karla Terry of Richmond, B.C., took Lucas and his siblings to Disneyland, their first trip outside Canada. But what they couldn’t know at the time was that a few bites of romaine salad Lucas ate one night at a small California roadside restaurant would change their lives forever.
Like most people who get sick from this strain of E. coli, Lucas, then two years old, didn’t show symptoms right away. When he started feeling unwell, the family headed out for the long drive home. By the time he was in a Canadian hospital, the E. coli had shut down one of his kidneys and led to two brain injuries. There are no current treatments for E. coli that can help alleviate infections or prevent complications.
Lucas can no longer walk, talk or see.
“Lucas was just a beaming ray of light … he was a caring person … a cheeky boy, a loving brother,” said his father, Nathan Parker. “I remember him in the hospital waking up out of a coma and looking around, just lost, not talking, not walking, not moving much. Such a brain injury that his brain was so swollen that there was no comfort, there was nothing. It was just hell.”
Bill Marler, an American lawyer and food-safety advocate who has been fighting for food safety for almost 30 years, represents Lucas and his parents. Marler has filed suit on behalf of the family against the restaurant where they ate, as well as the farm and suppliers of the lettuce; the case is currently in the discovery phase in a court system slowed down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lucas, “is the most devastatingly injured human who has survived a food-borne illness outbreak — ever,” said Marler. “The fact that he survived at all and his parents care for him as gently and as caringly as they do is a testament to them.”
Young children and older adults are most at risk of developing serious complications from E. coli O157: H7 contamination. While most people simply experience an upset stomach, some develop life-threatening symptoms, including stroke, kidney failure and seizures — and some die.
Between 2009 and 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say they identified 40 food-borne outbreaks of infections from this strain of E. coli in the U.S. with a confirmed or suspected link to leafy greens.
Marler says he believes cows — and a society that values convenient, bagged lettuce — are to blame.