kidney foundation of canadaJust over a decade ago, public knowledge surrounding E.coli O157:H7 was limited largely to the 1993 mess in which three children died after eating hamburgers at a Jack in the Box restaurant in Washington state. Looking back now, Vancouver resident Anne Nickerson says that she had heard of the illness but she certainly had no idea that she would soon become a crusader in raising awareness of the disease that nearly killed her infant daughter a year later.
In August 1994, Nickerson and her husband, Larry Jackie, and their three-year-old girl, Lauren, attended a picnic where burgers were the main dish. Within a couple of days, Lauren started experiencing diarrhea. Nickerson thought it was a bad case of the flu, but her daughter’s diarrhea soon turned bloody. Less than a week after that summer gathering, Lauren had been admitted to B.C. Children’s Hospital and diagnosed with hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a complication that sometimes arises from an E.coli infection, kills red blood cells, and causes kidney failure. Little Lauren, whose kidneys had shut down, was put on dialysis and spent six weeks in hospital.
After being discharged from hospital, Lauren spent another month on dialysis.
From there, Lauren was put on medication for high blood pressure and started to follow a low-sodium, -protein, and -potassium diet. She’s now 13 and, at least by all outward appearances, a “normal” teenager: she has an 11-year-old brother and loves dancing, skiing, and playing volleyball. But the consequences of her E.coli infection remain.
In the Nickersons’ case, HUS introduced the family to living-donor transplants. Nearly two years ago, Anne donated one of her kidneys to Lauren. But chances are good Lauren will need another transplant 20 or so years down the road.
To help raise awareness of E.coli and HUS, Nickerson and her husband, along with the Kidney Foundation of Canada’s B.C. branch, started the Jackie Family Fund in 1995. Money raised goes toward publishing educational brochures, like E.coli Bacteria: What You Need to Know, which are available through the foundation and at some schools, seniors centres, and grocery stores. The pamphlet outlines ways to prevent infection, such as washing your hands with hot, soapy water after using the washroom or changing diapers and before preparing food, especially if a family member has diarrhea; and always thawing meat in the microwave or fridge, never at room temperature.