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E coli pain was worse than brain tumor

When Heather Whybrew entered Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA, she truly thought the worst was behind her.   At PLU, she was pursing a double major in biology and psychology after surviving a brain tumor as teenager.

When beginning her college classes at PLU, Heather did not know that the pain she survived as a teen was shortly going to be repeated.  What she lived through the first time was more than enough for any one person’s lifetime.

Heather had suffered from headaches for two years when doctors discovered she had a rare brain tumor–giant cell glioblastoma–in November of 2004.  

A full craniotomy was required to remove the tumor from the left frontal lobe of her brain.  The surgery at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital left Heather partially paralyzed.   Her stay at Children’s lasted more than a month, as she required intensive rehabilitation.

Heather had to re-learn many basic motor functions, including how to walk.  Her recovery from the brain surgery and rehabilitation were in the end successful.   She was able to enroll at PLU, living on campus and dining at the university cafeteria.

In the spring of 2008, the PLU food service menu included romaine lettuce grown in California.  Heather was among those who consumed the lettuce that proved to be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, potentially deadly bacteria.  

She became ill, experiencing cramping, nausea, and diarrhea, which by the second day became bloody.  The campus health center sent her to a Federal Way, WA hospital emergency room, where she was admitted and tested positive for E. coli O157: H7.

Over the next week, Heather battled the E. coli infection.   She came down with pneumonia and developed blood clots in her extremities and IV insertion sites.  That required Heparin, a blood thinner.  When kidney irregularities emerged, she was transferred to Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, where she had battled back from the brain tumor.

Heather’s second stay at Children’s would last 20 days.  She continues to recover from the E. coli infection and its complications.

Returning to PLU, she is again a student.  Now, however, she must give herself two Heparin shots a day in the abdomen to keep blood clots at bay.   Because she missed her the final exams for her freshman year and was forced to drop some classes, Heather will remain a student for an extra year.

“I have a very high tolerance for pain,” said the college student.  “I have experienced sports injuries, undergone reconstructive surgery, and have had a craniotomy to remove a brain tumor.  I have had chemo and a difficult rehab from partial paralysis–but I have never experienced anything like the pain from E coli infection.”

Leafy greens contaminated either in the field or during processing have increasingly been found contaminated with E. coli.

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