Close Call: Local woman nearly dies after eating tainted lettuce

BROWNSVILLE, Minn. (WKBT)- A nationwide recall involving romaine lettuce from the Salinas, California region is now over, but not before sickening more than 165 people nationwide.

A young woman from our area is among those who got sick and nearly died from eating it.

On the outside, Mariah Fisher Skadson of Brownsville, Minnesota looks like a healthy 25 year old. “I shouldn’t look or be doing the things I’m doing.”

But on the inside, her body is still recovering two-and-half months later from an infection that nearly took her life. “I’m very lucky.”

“Things could’ve been catastrophic,” said Gundersen Health System Clinical Hematologist Dr. Wayne Bottner.

Mariah’s illness started out routine. “I just thought I had a stomach ache, nothing out of the ordinary.” But it quickly escalated into something much more severe. “I started to vomit, more serious symptoms started to occur.”

After going to the hospital two different times, being sent home and not getting any better, doctors were finally able to determine Mariah had a serious infection.

“I got the most rare form of e-coli, the shiga toxin is so rare.”

The next several days for Mariah were a blur. “I don’t remember much.”

She spent four days in the Intensive Care Unit in an induced coma. “I was on a ventilator, I had a feeding tube, catheter. What put me in the ICU is I had 2 seizures, I had to do dialysis so I had a catheter in my jugular. I was in kidney failure, my kidneys were at 8%, I was running a fever in the ICU. I was in an ice blanket because my fever was so severe.”

“I’ve been doing this for 36 years. She’s the first adult I’ve seen with this particular problem,” said Dr. Wayne Bottner.

Because e-coli isn’t generally treated with antibiotics, doctors basically had to let the illness run its course. “They were just monitoring me and doing the best they could.”

Dr. Bottner said, “When you look at how ill she was at her worst, we were all quite worried quite frankly.”

But as quickly as Mariah became ill, she was able to fight her way back almost just as fast. Her recovery has shocked her doctors. “I take care of a lot of people whose outcomes are not very good and to see some become as ill as she was and then walk out of the hospital a couple of weeks later, without her dialysis catheter anymore was really quite remarkable.”

“I had one doctor tell me, they had never been so nervous about another patient. I had two doctors call me a miracle.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was able to trace the shiga toxin-producing e-coli back to Fresh Express bagged lettuce that Mariah had eaten at a family gathering. She was the only one who got sick.

“You always think that’s never going to happen to me, well it did.”

“People disparage government agencies, but in this case they were crucial in helping us with their case.”

While she was lucky to survive, Mariah still has a long road ahead of her. She’s undergoing months of physical, occupational and speech therapy to get back to where she once was.

“I lost mobility and functions of my brain, the toxin affected my brain so I’m a lot slower and I’m a lot weaker so I’m working on that right now. At this point, I’m just frustrated that I’m not able to do the things I used to be able to to do.”

Mariah knows now just how close she came to death, but it is determined to get back to doing the things she loves on her terms. “I’m a fighter. I’ll do anything to feel better and to be back the way I was.”

Mariah says she is so thankful for the doctors and staff at Gundersen for saving her life, and for her family and friends for being by her side the entire time.

And some good news in her recovery, she was just cleared to be able to drive on her own again.

She is pursuing legal action against the company that sold the lettuce. She says she doesn’t want anyone else to have to go through what she did.

While washing lettuce may get rid of some pesticide residue and bacteria, it has not been proven an effective way to remove e-coli.