None of us ever imagined that the food we were eating might not be safe.
In 1997 I was a typical happy 11-year-old girl, spending time with my friends, family and going to school. Every day my friends and I ate I lunch in the school’s cafeteria. None of us ever imagined that the food we were eating might not be safe.
Several weeks after eating a strawberry dessert at school I got sick. The body aches, headaches, and abdominal pain came first, quickly followed by a high fever and vomiting. I didn’t go to school for four days but wasn’t getting any better. My parents took me to the emergency room when I could no longer eat and drink. I was severely dehydrated. My urine was the color of weak coffee.
The doctor suspected Hepatitis A which was a complete surprise to me and my family. I was immediately admitted to the hospital where the diagnosis was confirmed. I was so dehydrated that the nurses couldn’t find a vein to start my IV. My father had to help hold me down so the nurses could get a needle in my arm. I later found out I was screaming so loud my mom could hear my cries all the way down the hall.
I stayed in the hospital for six days with my parents by my side praying I would stop vomiting. I was in so much pain that that I was unable to communicate with my family and barely able to open my eyes. My parents told me that tears would fall down my face and that I would groan in my sleep. My body convulsed in dry heaves, even though I hadn’t eaten in a week, while it desperately tried to rid itself of the poison. I lost 10% of my body weight.
I soon discovered that I was one of hundreds of children sickened by Hepatitis A that came from contaminated frozen strawberries served at school. For months after I left the hospital I battled hair loss, fatigue, and had shingles twice. I had constant unexplained back pain. It was all truly horrible.
At 21 I still worry about the prevalence of foodborne illness. Eighteen months after I was hospitalized with Hepatitis A, my older sister was infected by E. coli and nearly died. Both experiences were very traumatic for my entire family.