On Nov. 17, 2015, Nancy was the recipient of the Stop Foodborne Illness Legacy Tribute in honor of her son Alexander Thomas Donley.
In July 1993, my only child, my 6-year old son Alex, died suddenly. The cause? He had eaten an E. coli O157:H7-contaminated hamburger which led to Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome and ultimately to his death. He suffered tremendously during the course of his 4-day ordeal while his medical team, his father and I, and loving friends and family stood powerlessly by. There was no cure for E. coli poisoning then and there still isn’t to this day.
Several months after his death I received a call from one of STOP’s co-founders, Mary Heersink. She informed me about STOP and offered that she and others cared and wanted to help during our grieving.
Over time I became deeply committed to and involved in promoting STOP’s mission: “To prevent illness and death from pathogens in our food supply”.
For years I went to Washington DC, sharing Alex’s story with anyone who would listen–Congressmen, policy makers, even the president and vice president of the United States–in order to underscore the critical necessity to implement more stringent food safety laws and policies. But I didn’t get those audiences on my own. It was my affiliation with STOP, and the respect the organization earned of key policy makers, that opened those doors.
I can truthfully state that my involvement on behalf of STOP has caused at least one life to be spared…my own. STOP provided me venues and opportunities to channel my own life-threatening anger, grief and pain into something positive: the opportunity to work on promoting preventive food safety strategies in order that others may be spared the anguish that Alex suffered and the grief that those who loved him will take to their graves. I am forever in STOP’s debt.
After 20+ years of being STOP’s spokesperson (which necessitated being deeply ingrained in the daily food safety discussions and debates) I decided to “retire” and now I watch and participate more from the sidelines. It feels good. It feels right. It’s opened up more free time for me. So does that mean my life is more organized and my closets are cleaned out? Not on your life!
As the voice of people affected by foodborne illness, we collaborate with partners in academia, the food industry, and government to prevent foodborne illness. We advocate for effective food safety policy and facilitate culture change to increase food safety.