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A few years ago my life was much like the lives of many other mothers across the United States. Most of my waking hours were consumed with my job and taking care of my family.  There were times when my daughter Rylee, now 12 years old, would spend the evening in a sleeping bag near my desk at work.  I thought I was doing pretty well keeping up with what was going on in the world by reading the newspaper and watching the news.  Needless to say, I hardly had the time to engage in political activism.

But then Rylee got sick – and my perspective changed.

More than three years ago, for her 9th birthday, my husband Matt and I took Rylee on a trip to northern California. The morning after we arrived in Monterey for a visit to the aquarium, Rylee woke up complaining of a severe stomach ache and diarrhea. I took her to the nearest urgent care facility, and within 48 hours, she was in the pediatric intensive care unit at a children's hospital in San Francisco.

At the hospital her blood pressure dropped. She was dehydrated and hallucinating.  Her kidneys began to fail, and she was put on dialysis and required several blood transfusions. I sat there with Matt for a month, not knowing if she would pull through.

This all happened because Rylee ate a spinach salad contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

Rylee eventually recovered after spending over one month in the hospital and an additional two months at home – away from school, her friends and activities. As the result of a difficult intubation procedure, Rylee also lost her voice, a condition for which she underwent speech therapy. Unfortunately, the damage to Rylee's kidneys can never be reversed. Though now in good health, many emotional scars remain, including a fear of eating raw vegetables and fruits.

I still find it difficult to process that it was contaminated spinach that caused Rylee's illness, but the experience has made me active in the effort to improve the nation's food safety system.

On Oct. 6 and 7, Rylee, Matt and I participated in Food Safety Action Day in Washington, DC, as part of the Make Our Food Safe (MakeOurFoodSafe.org) coalition, which includes a number of consumer and public health organizations. Through our connection with coalition member S.T.O.P – Safe Tables Our Priority (Safetables.org), an organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens, we were part of a team made up of victims of foodborne pathogens and their family members.  Together, we visited Capitol Hill to make our voices and stories heard.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) and Rep. Dina Titus, who represents my home of Henderson, NV, are already supporters of stronger food safety laws.  We thanked Rep. Titus for voting for the House food safety bill (HR 2749) that passed in July. Sen. Reid pledged his support of the companion food safety bill, S 510, and told Rylee he would do whatever he could to get the bill passed.  

We met with staff members from the offices of Sen. Ensign (NV) and Sen. Daniel Inouye (HI), and Rylee was given the opportunity to tell them how she got sick and why she wanted the food safety laws changed. In each meeting we underscored that what happened to Rylee is not uncommon:  every year millions of Americans are sickened by contaminated food and thousands of people die unnecessarily. To see Rylee's short video on our trip to Capitol Hill, visit: www.youtube.com/safetables.

I am a busy mom just like many other women in this country. I want to make sure my daughter grows up healthy and happy, and it is my job to make sure she eats nutritious food. I want to feel confident that when I go to the store, the food I am buying is safe and not a risk to my family.  As consumers, we don't have the power to check on these products and without a better system to protect us we are totally at the mercy of the next outbreak.

To take action, click here and send your senator a letter telling them that you demand improvements to our food safety system.  You owe it to your children, and yourself, to speak out.

Kathleen Chrismer
Rylee's Mom
Henderson, NV

The opinions here are the author's alone and do not represent the official policy for the entire Make Our Food Safe coalition.

Originally posted to makeourfoodsafe on Thu Oct 22, 2009 at 02:36 PM PDT.

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