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The Human Face of the PCA Salmonella Outbreak

(Editor’s note: These are short profiles of victims of the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak linked to Peanut Corporation of America products. The jury in the PCA criminal trial is due to resume its deliberations on Thursday morning in Albany, GA.)

Shirley Almer

Shirley Almer resided in Brainerd, MN. She owned a family bowling alley in Wadena, MN, called “Wadena Lanes.” The bowling alley belonged to her husband, and, after he passed away, Shirley took over.

Shirley Almer

After suffering from seizures in July 2008, Shirley was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. Shirley had been battling cancer for months before Salmonella took her life.

Shirley was hospitalized a week before Christmas due to severe dehydration. She was scheduled to be released on Dec. 22, 2008, but she passed away on Dec. 21, 2008, supposedly due to pneumonia. She was 72.

Roughly two weeks later, the Almer family received a call from the Minnesota Department of Health claiming that Shirley had Salmonella bacteria in her blood.

Shirley was one of two victims at two different Brainerd nursing homes whose deaths have been blamed on contaminated PCA peanut butter.

Minnie Borden

Minnie Borden was raised in Lanett, AL. She was a lively woman who loved Little Debbie’s Peanut Butter Cheese sandwich crackers. With the exception of her arthritis and poor hearing, Minnie was in excellent health. In the fall of 2008, Minnie began complaining of abdominal pains and noticed that her appetite was dwindling, but that did not slow her down on her favorite Little Debbie snacks.

Well into December, Minnie’s stomach pain was excruciating and she eventually called her daughter to take her to the Miami Valley Hospital Emergency Room. After blood testing, an EKG and lots of observation, nothing specific was found to be the cause of Minnie’s suffering.

Minnie Borden (left) with her daughter Earlene Carter.

Earlene Carter, Minnie’s daughter, agreed to have Minnie move in with her after Minnie was discharged from the hospital. With Earlene by Minnie’s side day and night, Earlene observed her mother’s state worsen by the day. One week later, Earlene scheduled another doctor’s appointment out of concern for her weak mother.

On Christmas Eve of 2008, doctors sent a stool sample to a lab to test for pathogens. Though the results were alarming, it was a relief to have finally found the problem. Minnie had been sickened by Salmonella Group B. On Dec. 29, Minnie was discharged after many procedures in an attempt to get her health back on track.

On the evening of Monday, Jan. 19, 2009, Earlene remembers getting ready to watch “Wheel of Fortune” with her mother in the hospital room. That night, while lying in bed after visiting with Minnie all day, Earlene received a devastating phone call about her mother. After doctors had worked on stabilizing her more than once, Minnie Borden was pronounced dead at 6:41 a.m. on Jan. 20, 2009.

Bobby Ray Hullett 

Bobby Ray Hullett was raised in Maiden, NC. He passed away at Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory, NC, on Nov. 26, 2008, in his early 50s. Bobby, better known as “Pete,” and his wife, Shirley, were married for 45 years.

Working at Southern Glove Mill for 30 years, Pete suffered from an accident, leaving him with only one functioning hand. Despite this injury, Pete worked hard up until his death. Other than high blood pressure and cholesterol problems, Pete was in excellent health.

Bobby Ray “Pete” Hullett with his family.

One of Pete’s favorite snacks was Austin brand peanut butter crackers, two and three packs a day. On Nov. 23, 2008, Pete began vomiting and eventually lost consciousness and collapsed on the floor. The morning after, he was very weak when taking the trash out. Shirley called her son Tony after Pete collapsed on the floor once again.

Tony drove Pete to Catawba Valley Medical Center Emergency Room. The doctors found that Pete’s blood pressure was abnormally low and that he needed to be rehydrated.

After an EKG showed normal results, blood and urine specimens were sent to a lab for testing. The lab results were abnormal, showing decreased kidney functions and creatinine.  There was also concern about an increased amount of carbon dioxide in Pete’s bloodstream.

Around 8 p.m., Pete needed to be admitted into the hospital for treatment of kidney failure and severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Around 2 a.m., Pete’s diagnosis was listed as shock, renal failure, diarrhea with white blood cells in stools, and also respiratory failure. Two short hours later, Pete seemed to gain some strength. He was able to move his toes and fingers upon request of the nurse.

At 7 a.m., ICU physicians came to speak to Pete’s family. They explained that Pete had suffered an acute myocardial infarction with cardiogenic shock and that his diagnosis was poor. Pete was in acute renal failure, and the doctor explained that the chances of him surviving were low. After almost 24 hours of attempting to save Pete’s life, hospice spoke to Pete’s family about protocol for cardiac arrest, which they expected to occur.

Pete’s health continued to decline on Nov. 26. After being summoned into the hospital room, Pete’s family watched him gain enough strength to look at them one last time. With his family by his side, Bobby “Pete” Hullett was pronounced dead at 6:32 p.m. on Nov. 26, 2008.

Vernon Knudsen

Vernon Knudsen was raised in Onalaska, TX, and spends his time anticipating and praying that treatments, including chemotherapy, will rid him of his continuing illness. Vernon is a retired 74-year-old who lives just north of Houston, TX.

Vernon Knudsen

Vernon’s medical history includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, an irregular heartbeat and tremors. Also, Vernon has had surgeries to repair a hernia and to treat sleep apnea. Vernon keeps up with his regular checkups and takes regular medications.

On Aug. 6, 2008, Vernon began experiencing chest pains and shortness of breath. He instantly made an appointment with his doctor at the Huntsville Family Medicine Clinic. Vernon was diagnosed with cardiomegaly (enlarged heart). The doctors wanted to watch Vernon and make sure everything was correct.

On Aug. 7, Vernon had an echocardiogram and Doppler tests. The tests showed an accumulation of fluid around the heart. Three weeks passed, and Vernon’s shortness of breath continued and seemed to get worse. By the end of August, Vernon’s health had seriously declined.

He was extremely worried and called the doctor. Without hesitation, the doctor instructed Vernon to be admitted into the emergency room. Vernon was suffering from respiratory distress and was placed on a breathing machine. Vernon’s wife, Marjorie, was in a panic.

After initial diagnosis, Vernon tested positive for Salmonella. The Knudsen family was shocked and had no idea that Vernon had been sickened by Salmonella from a Keebler peanut-butter-and-cheese cracker. Vernon’s suffering continued for nine days, and then, on Sept. 5, 2008, he was sent home.

The next week, Vernon continued to suffer from abdominal pain, a cough and fever. On Sept. 23, 2008, he returned to the emergency room. Vernon then tested positive for Clostridium difficile. The next day, he was sent to the ICU. He was now suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, diarrhea, hypertension, anemia, renal insufficiency, coronary and aortic atherosclerotic disease, and he was becoming increasingly confused and disoriented.

On Sept. 30, a nurse entered Vernon’s room to find him lifeless and non-responsive. Several nurses finally were able to awaken him and then realized he was unable to speak and had difficulty swallowing.

The next day, Vernon was transferred to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. “By the time I got there, I was nearly dead,” he recalls. Vernon was eventually released and sent home. He still suffers daily and has been in and out of hospitals several times since October 2008.

Christopher Meunier

Christopher Meunier was raised in South Burlington, VT. A happy, confident, and healthy young boy who can meet any challenge, is how his parents described him. Even though it has been almost six years ago, Gabrielle and Daryl, Christopher’s parents, can still remember his bloodcurdling screams on the night of Nov. 25, 2008, when Gabrielle found her son sprawled on the floor, vomiting, choking and terrified. Twenty minutes after the vomiting came to a halt, Christopher began suffering from severe abdominal pains. Days later, his pain continued, along with nausea and diarrhea.

The Meunier family decided to take Christopher to his pediatrician. After examining Christopher, the doctor sent him home with a stool sample kit. He was in pain, dehydrated and losing blood. His mother said he was “screaming about body pain everywhere, he was doubled over and was crying out, ‘Mommy, it hurts so bad, I want to die.'”

Gabrielle and Daryl rushed their son to Fletcher Allen Health Care Emergency Room, and Christopher’s stool sample was taken in for testing. The results were positive for E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and Shigella. Christopher was suffering from fever, weight loss, bloody stools, vomiting, and dozens of bouts of diarrhea a day. This went on for a week.

Though he had tested positive for Clostridium difficile, the doctors were positive that the pain and suffering was from Salmonella. The bloody bouts of diarrhea continued until Dec. 3, after he was sent home. At that point, Christopher was put on a liquid diet and several antibiotics.

Months passed, and neither Christopher nor his parents felt any better about his gastrointestinal problems. It wasn’t until May 8, 2009, that they began to feel some relief, but the fear of being infected with Salmonella will forever haunt them.

Robert Moss

Robert Moss was raised in Louisiana. He was a World War II Navy veteran and the owner of Moss Carpet and Flooring.

Robert Moss

After eating Austin-brand peanut butter crackers, Robert noticed that in October 2008 he suffered from bouts of diarrhea. He also suffered from a fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches and abdominal cramps. His symptoms seemed to worsen about Tuesday, Oct. 14. His diarrhea was now painful and more frequent, and he had lost 10 pounds by this point.

Robert refused to seek professional help, and he tried to ease his ailments with home remedies. When he finally required medical help on Oct. 16, he was suffering from kidney failure.

Robert was admitted into Glenwood Regional Medical Center Emergency Room for nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and excessive fatigue. A stool sample tested positive for Salmonella on Oct. 18.

On Oct. 19, Robert was extremely ill. Blood tests showed that Salmonella had escaped his gastrointestinal tract and entered his bloodstream. Robert remained hospitalized and regularly received pain medication until Oct. 23. He continued having bouts of diarrhea until late February.

On Feb. 24, 2009, Robert was admitted to the Glenwood Regional Medical Center Emergency Room. After blood tests, Robert found out that Salmonella was still alive in his gastrointestinal tract. Ultimately, he was discharged and transferred to a rehabilitation facility on March 23, almost a month later.

Robert was readmitted to the Glenwood Regional Medical Center on April 6, discharged to an expert nursing facility on April 13, and then remained under constant medical supervision. He was admitted back to Glenwood Regional Medical Center in July 2009 due to bloody diarrhea. As the months went by, he grew weaker by the day. Robert passed away due to an infection caused by Salmonella on Oct. 4, 2009. He was 83.

Betty Shelander

Betty Shelander was raised in Blowing Rock, NC. She was a lively woman, caring and compassionate, and she had a great talent for music. Just two days after Christmas 2008, Betty began feeling extremely nauseous. Not wanting to worry her husband, she spent the night hovering over the toilet vomiting and crying. The next morning, Betty called for help. After speaking with her doctor, Betty was prescribed Phenergan suppositories for relief.

On Dec. 28, Betty began to feel better from the medicine the doctor prescribed. However, she later began feeling weak and went to lay down. Toward the end of the afternoon, Betty’s husband, Albert, went to check on her. Mortified, he found Betty on the floor and her eyes wide open with a blank stare. Albert tried to resurrect Betty, but without success.

After he called 911, an ambulance arrived and rushed Betty to Southeast Georgia Regional Health Center. She had no pulse when they arrived. The Emergency Room staff worked on Betty for 17 minutes, but, after no response, she was declared dead at 5:07 p.m. on Dec. 28, 2008. She was 53. The cause of death was pancreatitis.

According to Dr. Hanley, a medical examiner, Betty had regularly consumed Zone Perfect nutritional bars. Hanley also revealed that the most apparent cause of acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis was a Salmonella infection from consuming a contaminated product from PCA.

Clifford Tousignant

Clifford Tousignant was raised in Duluth, MN. An Army veteran and a family man, he was sickened after consuming peanut butter sandwiches made with Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter manufactured by King Nut and Peanut Corporation of America.

Clifford Tousignant was a devoted family man.

After living with his son, Marshall, in Minnesota for almost a decade, moving into Good Samaritan Woodland Skilled Nursing Facility was a change. Upon entering his new home in November 2008, Cliff was struggling with diabetes mellitus, which had caused nerve damage, pain, and numbness in his hands and feet, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), high cholesterol and autoimmune thrombocytopenia (low platelet count).

On Dec. 28, 2008, Cliff began having diarrhea. One of the nurses took a stool sample and had it sent to the St. Joseph’s Medical Center lab to be tested. Through the next two days, Cliff’s diarrhea got worse.

On Dec. 30, 2008, he was sent to the hospital in an ambulance. The treating physician believed that Salmonella was causing the problem. The next day, Cliff’s suffering continued, and the results came back positive for Salmonella.

By Jan. 3, assistance was needed for Cliff to get in and out of bed due to pain. On Jan. 4, Cliff was finally able to receive some treatment for the Salmonella.

On Jan. 11, Marshall stopped by at Good Samaritan Woodland to check on his father. He noticed that Cliff seemed lethargic. After noticing that his father was unresponsive, Cliff was rushed to St. Joseph’s Medical Center Emergency Room. Salmonella was still present in Cliff’s gastrointestinal tract, and his health was rapidly declining.

The morning of Jan. 12, 2009, Cliff was entirely unresponsive. At 11:08 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2009, he was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Medical Center due to Salmonella gastroenteritis. He was 79.

© Food Safety News
  • Gene

    Because its just food and people get food poisoning all the time but they recover and forget about it so why care…

    • Joe

      Obviously they can’t recover if they’re dead.

  • Jenny Herring

    Very sobering and sad.