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U of A student's mom talks about daughter's near-death experience with E. coli

The Arkansas Department of Health confirmed that 42 patients had symptoms tied to the E. coli outbreak in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Camille Honey, a sophomore at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, was one of four patients hospitalized during an E. coli outbreak in August 2023.

Her mother, Kris, is talking with 5NEWS about just how close to death her daughter was, all because of something she ate.

Camille earned her way in with a scholarship and had just moved into her sorority house during the summer. 

"She is a very social, sweet girl, kind of quiet, but very funny...people are drawn to her," Kris explained. "Also very smart, makes friends very easily."

Before classes started, Camille was back at her family home in Fayetteville, and Kris says her daughter became violently ill right in front of her eyes.

"She couldn't hold a sip of water down," Kris said. "She came home on the 16th, and we went to the emergency room on the 17th."

Coincidentally, Kris had been watching a documentary on Netflix called Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food

 "God put that situation together," she explained. "He tells us things in different ways, and I do believe that he put that in front of me."

Kris says she only made it about halfway through the documentary before rushing her daughter to the ER, but it was enough to influence what started running through her mind.

"At the emergency room I asked for the stool sample," she explained. "And I said, 'You're gonna think I'm crazy. I'm watching this show. It's just in my head, please just, you know, humor me.' " 

Camille had already tested positive for COVID-19, but when the other test that Kris had requested came back, it showed that the college student was battling an E. coli infection too.

"I thought she was going to die last week," Kris said. "There was one night where she was barely breathing. She was using every muscle in her body to breathe. I thought she was gonna die."

Camille was diagnosed with a strain of E. coli called O157, the same one profiled in Poisoned.

It spreads a toxin known as Shiga, which damages red blood cells and shuts down the kidneys. 

"She did go into kidney failure, and she's on dialysis now," Kris said. "She might not have that kidney function return, but we are hopeful that she will."

Camille hired the food safety lawyer who leads that documentary: Bill Marler.

"If she does have impaired renal function for the rest of her life, those are medical bills that she's going to have to take care of for the rest of her life, that's not fair," Kris pointed out. "She has suffered so much and lost so much. She's lost time, and possibly part of her kidney function for the rest of her life."

The documentary dives into what food safety experts believe is the root cause of toxic E.coli in food: contamination from animal feces on produce farms, which are largely based in the West.

"My number one thing is it needs to stop," Kris emphasized. "We've had enough cases in the United States with romaine lettuce, spinach, sprouts, and raw vegetables. You can't wash this off. I would like to be able to have a salad and not have to worry. Our food supply needs to be better protected. When there's E. coli on the food, someone should be held accountable for that."

She adds that the University of Arkansas has been supportive through the entire ordeal.

Kris says she believes they are a victim in this too, as rumors falsely accused the campus dining halls as the possible source, which the Arkansas Department of Health ruled out as the likely source. 

"I'm ready for people to be educated about this," Kris said. "This was not caused by any part of the university. I think this rode in on a semi out of California or Arizona or somewhere, and as soon as that all comes to light, and we find out where it came from, those people will be held responsible."

As for now, Camille, the young woman who loves to dance, snowboard, and get on the lake is spending hours at a time on dialysis every week while her family and friends pray that she won't suffer from lifelong health issues. 

"I'm eager to have the conversation with her when she feels good enough to hear it and believe that in a year from now, we are going to be on a vacation, doing something, stand-up paddleboarding, whatever it is, and we're just going to look at each other and say, 'wow, you're back," Kris said. 

Kris says Camille has a message for those who have learned about her story.

"She is ready for her life to get back to normal, and she is so very saddened that she does not know when that will be and what that will look like," Kris relayed.

Camille hasn't started her major yet, but she hopes to study marketing and possibly work in the medical sales field when she graduates. 

It's unclear if she'll be able to return to class this semester or take classes online. 

The E. coli infection Camille was diagnosed with is not treatable with antibiotics.

In fact, an antibiotic can actually make complications worse.

According to the CDC, the symptoms of E. coli poisoning to look out for include vomiting, intense stomach cramps, diarrhea with blood, and in some cases, a mild fever. 

As for the source of the outbreak, the Arkansas Department of Health is still investigating.

Again, the ADH confirmed that the U of A's public dining halls were not the likely source.

There have been no new cases reported since August 25th. 

For now, the ADH is analyzing responses from a survey of more than 3,200 people to help identify the source. 

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