My sweet little daughter ate three bites of a tainted hamburger from a fast food restaurant and became violently ill.
Sixteen years ago in Carlsbad, California, twenty-five miles north of San Diego, my sweet little daughter, Lauren Beth, ate three bites of a tainted hamburger from a fast food restaurant and became violently ill. For the next ten days, nothing could prepare my family for what was to lie ahead.
Lauren Beth, age six years, ten months and ten days, died in my arms while on a life support system at San Diego’s, highly-respected, Children’s Hospital, three days after Christmas on December 28th, 1992. Although at the time we did not know Lauren’s true killer, we would soon come to the brutal reality of E. coli O157:H7.
For those of you not familiar with the carnage that E. coli O157:H7 can provide. It is an experience that none of us are prepared to endure, much less observe! Her struggle was valiant, but brutal. After excruciating pain, all of her main organs falling victim to this deadly toxin that is E. coli O157:H7. Three heart attacks, the first of which I was left helpless to witness. Her brain waves were no longer active. Her body was tormented and beaten. Her kidneys, liver, and heart were ravaged. Lauren fell into a coma and was taken from my arms forever. Death is not a voluble alternative for a previously perfectly-healthy, almost 7-year-old.
However, before we were aware of the reality, which is E. coli, we were struggling with the understandable shock of her death. We were told Lauren died from complications from the flu. Heartbroken, our family, tried to accept the unacceptable. We found it incomprehensible that a healthy six-year-old child could suffer such a fate. In January 1993, began a chain of events, which would bring me, to the beginning of a quest for many unanswered questions.
With the support of our close-knit community, through cross-reference and research, we found that Lauren did not die from complications of the flu. Lauren was the first child to die from the Pacific Northwest (West Coast) Epidemic. Lauren’s illness, baring close resemblance to that of others who had eaten a hamburger at fast food restaurants in Seattle, Washington and six other states, had succumbed to the same fate.
After learning of what really happened to Lauren, my first questions were “Why? Who? and What can I do to go about implementing changes so that this hellish fate does not happen to another child and their family?” Through tenacity and persistence and a culmination of twenty or so parents, like myself, we assembled. None of us were willing to accept the unacceptable for our precious children and loved ones and we dared to challenge the powers that be and the mediocrity that existed in our nation’s food supply. Thus, the changes began.
By the summer of 1993, an eclectic gathering of parents, inclusive of myself, came together from all over the United States to form what is now nationally known and widely respected as Safe Tables Our Priority or S.T.O.P. The gathering of these parents and the changes we would strive to bring to fruition, would ultimately lead to groundbreaking standards in national food safety and safeguards, copeablity, and prevention. I am one of the original founding members of S.TO.P. and I am proud to be responsible for initiating and working toward the passage of two State food safety laws in 1995 and 1997 in my state of California. I also actively participated in working for implementation of our first national meat and poultry reform in 92 years. My son Michael and I were in the Oval Office with Nancy and Tom, and Bob and Lori in 1996, when President Clinton signed this reform into law. I have, through the years, continued to participate in initiating many changes in awareness and education and have helped change the way that food safety is addressed.
Although I no longer am in the forefront of S.T.O.P., I still am involved where I am needed. I actively work with victim families and I firmly believe in giving back what so many gave to me. Their strength and love and caring and their heart. I have recently agreed to be part of the “Final Justice” TV series, to let others know they CAN make a difference.
I believe that if the Safeguards, Standards and our California Reporting Law were in place and if there were Enforceable, Accountability and Culpability, there would have been Preventability. At the time Lauren was taken ill, if these Safeguards and Standards had been firmly in place… If there had been less finger-pointing, denial, and insistence that things stay in the antiquated state they were in 1992, Lauren’s life may well have been saved and there would have been a different outcome.