That food poison woke up every single thing in my body that could go wrong and made it go off all at once.

A mother of two, Dona and her husband went out to celebrate their anniversary on New Year’s Eve, 1994, at a local seafood restaurant in Austin, TX. Unfortunately, what was meant to be a romantic, relaxing meal to celebrate a special occasion became unforgettable for entirely different reasons when Dona became violently ill from eating oysters contaminated with Vibrio parahaemolyticus.

Though both Dona and her husband ate the same fried oysters, only Dona felt instantly ill. She called her doctor immediately and was told she should be fine in a couple hours. However, Dona’s mother-in-law, living with the family at the time, realized Dona was hemorrhaging. Her family rushed Dona, in shock, to the hospital. Dona continued to hemorrhage for three days while doctors looked for answers. Eventually, they determined she had been sickened by Vibrio parahaemolyticus, similar to cholera. Dona’s illness was part of an outbreak that affected 300 people and ultimately killed six. Dona spent a week in the hospital before she could return home, and spent another six months recuperating at home before she could work again.

Though she seemed to recover physically after six months, Dona continued to have severe anxiety and experienced panic attacks. Over the years, Dona has dealt with a variety of health problems, including fibromyalgia, rheumatic syndrome, and monthly outbreaks of shingles. In addition to undergoing chemotherapy from rectal colon cancer, she had to have a total hysterectomy in 2001. “It’s like that food poison woke up every single thing in my body that could go wrong and made it go off all at once,” says Dona. “I have watched my health deteriorate and lost the best years of my family’s life.”

In the 15 years that have passed since her initial illness, Dona has become vigilant about what she eats, but knows that reform is needed. It would pay off in the long-haul if we made sure that food products are safe to begin with, rather than watching people get sick. How many people will have to die before something changes?

January 1995, age 36

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