Munro Sefcik was a healthy and strong 50 year old when he went to lunch with a friend at a Subway in Charlotte, NC, Monday, March 9, 2015. Wednesday night he was in intensive care and by Thursday morning March 12, he had died.
When doctors told his wife Belva that Munro had died because of massive intravascular hemolysis and a liver abscess caused by a Clostridium perfringens infection, she couldn’t understand how it had happened. She couldn’t understand how he had gotten infected by Clostridium perfringens. Doctors explained that because of his diabetes Munro was the perfect host for the bacteria. They said the infection was from something he ate and they explained that the bacteria multiplied so quickly Munro did not have a chance.
“I think people who are diabetic or have an autoimmune disease or survived cancer should be able to eat in downtown Charlotte without fear of dying,” she told the doctors.
How Belva and Munro met
Belva met Munro 30 years ago at a church Christmas party. Munro introduced himself and told Belva that he thought he knew her. “I found out he’d only been in Charlotte no time, so I thought, oh, he’s shooting me a lie, here, at a church Christmas party.”
Despite Belva’s reservations, the two exchanged names and numbers. Munro would end up dating someone else until March, but after that relationship ended Belva and Munro began talking on the phone.
“He would call me every night. And talk for 30 or 40 minutes. But he never asked me out.”
Finally, Munro did ask her out. He asked her to join him at a Fourth of July picnic party. Belva described Munro on the date, “He was shy and a hunk. An absolute hunk.”
The two won a Fourth of July costume contest at the picnic.
From there Belva recalls things moving quickly. She said she knew by September that if things kept progressing, they would get married.
“He wanted to marry me and I told him that if he wanted to marry me now, he’d want to marry me in a few months and we could wait. And I told him, not to pray that we got married, pray for God’s will. And I didn’t trust him. So I told God, I said, if he’s over there praying for us to get married, don’t listen to him.”
Belva wanted a sign that she was supposed to marry Munro. Whether it was finding the perfect wedding dress by accident or being able to book the best wedding photographer in Charlotte, Belva got multiple signs. “There were so many things, it was uncanny. I just knew that it was what I was supposed to do.” Munro and Belva were married Oct. 6, 1990.
When marrying Belva, Munro became a stepdad to her two teenage daughters.
“They loved Munro as their own father. He loved them like they were his.”
Belva says that Munro was the role model her daughters needed. “They got to see what a good man was like.” “He was a great father. He was very loving to them and if they called, he would want me to put them on speakerphone so he could hear every word.”
Munro always supported Belva’s passions including her love for oil painting. He urged her to pursue art. Belva explained that their relationship wasn’t always perfect.
“Don’t get me wrong, there were times when he would have paid someone to take me and vice versa, but it was a wonderful marriage. He always seemed to love me more. And all my girlfriends loved him because he was cute as a button. And was obviously in love with me, and that’s attractive to a woman, to see a man in love with his wife the way he was with me. He adored me. He loved me with all of his heart, and I loved him the same.”
On Monday, March 9, 2015, at the age of 50, Munro went to Subway with a friend where he ordered and ate a meatball sandwich. He began feeling ill that night. Munro and Belva attended a midweek church service and friends told Munro that he wasn’t looking well. The next two days Munro felt ill — abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. Belva was gone all day Wednesday. When she returned home, she found Munro laying on the bed. He called his doctor to ask what kind of medication to get from the pharmacy because he felt so ill.
Belva offered to accompany him to the store but he told her to stay and socialize with his sister and her husband. “The thing that kills me is I didn’t even hug and kiss him.”
Munro threw up at the pharmacy and came home in even worse condition.
“We were going to eat and he didn’t feel like eating, so we were eating and he’s lying on the couch and feeling worse.” Belva told him that he would be able to attend his Bible study in the morning. He told her that he knew he would and began to yell out in pain.
Belva took Munro to the emergency room. But as they exited the car, Munro laid on the parking lot ground. Belva ran and found a police officer. The office instructed medical attendants to get a gurney and followed Belva out to Munro.
They rushed Munro into the emergency room and started tests. Belva remembers hearing them say, “That can’t be right,” as they rushed about. He was quickly transferred to the intensive care unit. Belva recalls a team of at least 17 devoted to her husband that night — surgeons, internists and nurses.
“I had no idea what was going on, and I told him to hang on. I told him to fight. And then a flash was maybe this is it? And I just pushed that right out of my mind. Because that’s ridiculous. I begged him to hang in there.”
Belva called Munro’s doctor and good friend and told him, “Munro is in the ER and he’s very sick.” He told Belva that he was trying to have some time off, but he listened to Belva and told her, it’s probably gallbladder. Belva said she would tell Munro. “I went in there and I said, Bobby just said it’s probably your gallbladder.” But he didn’t get better and early in the morning he had to be revived.
“I talked to him about holding hands. We would hold hands and watch TV and movies and eat popcorn. And I was begging him to stay, for that.” At 9 in the morning, Munro passed again, and this time was not revived, just 12 hours after entering the hospital.
Munro’s primary doctor and friend called crying. “He had gotten up and checked things, about an hour before Munro died. So he knew when he called that Munro probably wouldn’t live.”
When a stunned Belva asked the doctors what had happened, she was told they needed to perform an autopsy.
Clostridium Perfringens — How doctors traced it back to the meat sub
The causes of death were noted to be the liver abscess caused by Clostridium perfringens infection, complicated by patchy pulmonary edema, cardiomegaly, bilateral pleural effusions, and diffuse cutaneous erythema.
The incubation period for Clostridium perfringens infections is 6 to 24 hours.
Such manifestations of C. perfringens infection are rare but well-documented in the medical literature. Munro’s C. perfringens infection was most likely the result of the consumption of the Subway meatball sub sandwich.
C. perfringens is the third most common cause of foodborne disease in the United States. It is estimated to cause almost 1 million illnesses per year. Munro’s illness began with gastrointestinal symptoms, which makes a food item the most likely source of the C. perfringens.
The time it takes C. perfringens from ingested until the first illness symptoms begin C. perfringens ranges from 6 to 24 hours. The time from when Munro consumed the meatball sub sandwich to when he first became ill fit within that time frame.
The types of food that most commonly serve as sources for C. perfringens infections for people are meat and poultry, and food items that are made from or incorporate meat and poultry.
“They told me what the germ was. Then they told me that it has a biological, it has a timestamp. And it doubles every seven minutes. So that’s exponential growth.”
Belva was told Munro, as a type 1 diabetic never stood a chance.
“They said that he was the perfect host because he is diabetic. And they said people that are diabetic, or have an autoimmune disease, or have survived cancer are perfect hosts. And I said I think people who are diabetic or have an autoimmune disease or survive cancer should be able to eat in downtown charlotte without fear of dying.”
“I pretended that he wasn’t dead. That he was at home or at work. I could not accept the fact. It was too devastating. I couldn’t take in the fact that he was really gone. It took me a long time before I could say or really admit that he was gone.”
Munro’s funeral was attended by the greatest number of people in the church’s history — a building that seats 720, had standing room only. Belva recounted a conversation with her and Munro’s young grandson at the service.
“I said to my little grandson, ‘Your grandfather was very, very handsome. Do you think all these people came because he was handsome?’
“And he said, ‘No.’
“I said, ‘Like your grandfather, you’re very handsome. Like your grandfather, you’re very intelligent. Do you think they came here because he was intelligent?’
“He said, ‘No.’
“I said, ‘Like your grandfather, you have a wonderful heart. So do you think they came because of his heart?’
“And he said, ‘Yes.’
“And I said, ‘Yes, so go out and make a mark with your heart.’”
Munro will be remembered forever by his wife, daughters and grandkids, as well as those in the Charlotte community.
“I’ll love him forever,” Belva said. “He was a wonderful man. People saw the love he gave me.”
After his death, art helped Belva get through difficult times. Belva’s work can be seen here.
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