Health Team

Son's Death Prompts Woman to Track Food-Borne Illnesses

College student Alyssa Chrobuck says she is fortunate to be alive. At age 5, she ate a contaminated hamburger and soon was hospitalized and her organs were shutting down.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — College student Alyssa Chrobuck says she is fortunate to be alive. At age 5, she ate a hamburger contaminated with with E. coli bacteria. Soon after, she was hospitalized and her organs were shutting down.

Chrobuck beat the bug, but she is still suffering the after-effects.

Every year, about 325,000 people are hospitalized due to food-borne illnesses, such as E. coli. Most people recover completely from the acute problems, but there is no record of how many go on to have long-lasting health problems.

Nancy Donley said she plans to change that. She lost her son Alex to E. coli 15 years ago. Now, she the leads a group called S.T.O.P., or Safe Tables Our Priority.

“There are many people who have had long-term kidney problems, diabetes, pancreatic problems (and) vision problems,” Donley said.

Her group started a national registry to discover the extent of the problems.

Chrobuck said she had several doctors tell her she was “going to die.” Fifteen years later, she takes eight medications for a list of illnesses from gall stones to high cholesterol. There is also a red mark on her neck.

“I had to get half my thyroid removed last year because I had thyroid nodules pressing on my voice box,” she said.

"These long-term complications are life-threatening,” Donley said. “They're life-altering and need to be taken very, very seriously.”

S.T.O.P. will share its findings with government researchers in hopes of understanding cases like Chrobuck’s and how they can be avoided.

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