BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) — Less than three weeks ago, students at a Tennessee elementary school took a field trip. Today, a family faces multiple E. coli infections.
Grayson Hefflin, a kindergarten student at Avoca Elementary School, was among those who visited the Appalachian Fairgrounds in Gray, Tennessee on September 26.
He is now one of at least seven children hospitalized amid an outbreak of E. coli infections.
E. coli is a bacteria, explains the CDC. Many strains are harmless, but some can make you sick. Among those is Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, the strain that health officials determined the children were exposed to during their school field trip.
Although health officials have not identified the exact source of the infection, they have provided resources for staying healthy near animal exhibits — a common location for germs like E. coli, Cryptosporidium and Salmonella, according to the CDC.
Symptoms of an E. coli infection can vary from person to person, but commonly include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (which may be bloody), vomiting, and fever. Infections can occur between one and ten days after exposure, and most people can recover at home.
However, young children are at higher risk of suffering more serious illnesses and complications if they become infected with E. coli, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Grayson’s mother is experiencing this now.
“Since September 26, our family has experienced a myriad of different symptoms,” Diedre Hefflin, Grayson’s mother, told Nexstar’s WJHL.
Hefflin said Grayson had minor symptoms on Sept. 27 but recovered fairly quickly.
About a week later, her 15-month-old baby River started acting more agitated than usual. That didn’t raise any red flags, Hefflin said, because River is still teething.
“Saturday night is when I realized it was more,” Hefflin said. “At that time we discovered the outbreak of E. coli. »
River tested positive for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) at Bristol Regional Medical Center on Oct. 7, Hefflin said.
While he was transferred to Niswonger Children’s Hospital, River continued to get sicker.
“On Wednesday he started vomiting, he couldn’t keep water down,” Hefflin said. “He had completely stopped eating, stopped drinking. »
River began exhibiting symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication associated with STEC that affects kidney and blood clotting functions.
On October 12, River was transferred again, this time to Children’s Hospital of East Tennessee in Knoxville.
Hefflin spoke with WJHL while River was in an operating room receiving dialysis ports and a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line.
“Aside from all the medical jargon and information overload, there’s just an overwhelming amount of emotion,” Hefflin said of the experience. “But God really got us through this, through his grace and through the prayers of so many people who saw our story and are reaching out to us.”
Elijah, Hefflin’s second youngest son, also exhibits symptoms of E. coli but was not admitted to the hospital.
Hefflin’s family isn’t the only one affected; in fact, she said that a few doors down from River, at the PICU in Knoxville, was another patient who had participated in the school visit.
“We all banded together and became a small community that supports each other through all the symptoms, questions and resources needed to know what to do and where to go,” Hefflin said. “I’m really grateful for that.”
Hefflin said River’s recovery will likely keep him in Knoxville for at least a month.