Like many nervous parents, Wayne and Laurie Aldrich say they always watched what their daughters ate. They worried about the germs and bacteria that can lurk in food.
"All my food is well done," said Laurie Aldrich. "If you don't like it, don't eat at my house."
But none of their precautions prevented what happened that summer. Correspondent Peter Van Sant reports on this case.
On Aug. 28, 1999, they took their two daughters, Rachel, then 3, and Kaylea, then 2, to a county fair near their home outside Albany, N.Y.
On that day, more than 27,000 people packed the fairground. The temperature was 85 degrees, and the local fire department was offering selling cool well water at 25 cents a cup. Wayne Aldrich said his daughters each drank a small cup of the water.
Within 48 hours, both girls were sick to their stomachs. A doctor told the Aldriches not to worry, that the illness was probably just a virus. Then the girls' diarrhea became bloody.
The girls were admitted to the hospital. Rachel, in particular, wasn't doing well.
The two girls weren't the only ones falling ill. Hundreds of people came down with the same symptoms, and dozens ended up in local emergency rooms.
Infection specialist Donna Weatherwax began trying to find the cause of the outbreak. She was suspicious that it had originated at the fair. Tests confirmed the well water was the source of the illness. It had been contaminated by animal waste, which was infected with a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria.
"It's just really a devestating illness," said Weatherwax, who works at the Albany Medical Center.
The bacteria attacks the internal organs, sickening adults and threatening the lives of young children and the elderly.
Kaylea and Rachel were transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit at Albany Medical Center. But they didn't get better.
"The problem with this (disease) is there's no quick cure," said Ray Walsh, the doctor who treated the girls in intensive care. "No magic bullet we can use to treat this at this time."
Rachel's only defense against E. coli was her own immune system. It wasn't enough.
"It attacked her liver," Wayne Aldrich said. "It shut down her kidneys. It attacked her heart. And then it destroyed her brain."
In another room, Kaylea was fighting her own battle. "We told her that Rachel was very sick, and her body was broken, and it wasn't going to work anymore, and she had to say goodbye," said Laurie Aldrich.
Rachel died just days before her fourth birthday.
Kaylea, though, recovered. Although doctors continue to check her, she now seems to be fine.
And there's some other news: Kaylea has a new baby sister, Sara, born this month. But the pain of the family's loss is never far away.
"Rachel and Kaylea drank the same water with completely different results," said Wayne Aldrich. "I'll never understand that."
They will also never understand how something as simple as water could becom a contaminating killer.
"You think about meat and hamburger and hotdogs because it might not be cooked all the way," said Laurie Aldrich. "But you never suspect water is going to be a problem."
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