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Real Water faces lawsuit after 5-year-old girl gets seriously ill: "It was excruciating"

Questions remain after Real Water recall
Questions remain after Real Water recall 06:17

Many people buy bottled water because they believe it's healthier but federal investigators are now looking into questions about one particular brand of bottled water sold in several states.

In a YouTube video, Real Water founder Brent Jones said the benefits of his company's bottled alkaline water include "assisting with better cellular hydration and creating an antioxidant effect on the body."

The water was sold nationwide and the company offered home delivery of five-gallon bottles in Las Vegas to people like Ryan and Arika Carrier. The family says they thought they were getting the best water that they could drink and liked the taste of it. Their 2-year-old son Finn and 5-year-old daughter Hera drank it too, but last year, Hera started getting sick.

"Constant complaining, 'Mommy, my tummy hurts. I don't feel good,'" Arika told CBS News national consumer investigative correspondent Anna Werner.

Then in November, Hera got violently ill and couldn't hold food down. She soon became incoherent and was rushed to a local hospital.

"You don't know what's going on with your daughter. You're putting her in the back of the car, limp in the car seat. It was excruciating, excruciating," Ryan said.

When she arrived at the hospital, Doctors told Arika the 5-year-old's liver was failing. They said that they couldn't treat her there, and Hera would need to be life-flighted to Salt Lake City for a possible liver transplant. Doctors in Salt Lake City told the Carriers their daughter had ingested something highly toxic.

"It's absolutely like going into shock, you know, thinking that your 5-year-old might need a transplant," Arika tearfully recalled.

"Not many things make you fall on your knees in life, right? We fell to our knees. Right? We all prayed," Ryan added.

Their prayers were answered, and Hera avoided a transplant.

But it wasn't just their child. Over just 11 days, health authorities said five children between the ages of seven months and five years became ill – all at risk of needing liver transplants. Health officials say the "only common link between all the identified cases" was "the consumption of Real Water brand alkaline water."

In March, the company announced a nationwide voluntary recall of its Real Water brand alkaline water.

Werner went to Real Water's company office to ask whether the company knew what happened to those children, but their office was empty with just a few trucks sitting outside. The company later declined CBS News' request for an interview. But online, Jones said, "We'd like to express our deepest sympathy and concern over the events that led to the inquiry."

In a video posted to his website in March, Jones apologized to his customers and announced a nationwide recall of all Real Water that would last until the safety of the products is "clearly established."

But a videotaped deposition of a former Real Water employee, obtained by CBS News, raises serious questions about how the company made the water last fall.

Casey Aiken, who was hired by Real Water after working for strip clubs, said he had no experience in chemistry and only a couple of hours of what he called "hands-on training." But he was the one in charge of mixing a liquid concentrate into the water at the company's offices outside Las Vegas.

Aiken said in September or October, he was mixing a new batch in the tanks and got a low reading on a meter he was using to measure the water's alkalinity level. So he called his manager, Brent Jones' son Blaine, to ask what to do and was told to add more concentrate.

"And he didn't tell you how much?" Aiken was asked during the deposition. "No, he didn't tell me how much," he replied.

Aiken said he decided to add two and a half more gallons of the concentrate to the water. Aiken said during the deposition that he wouldn't think that adding more concentrate than usually used would potentially cause a problem with the water.

"If I'm putting into somebody that's ingesting it, I would think that it's safe no matter what," he laughed. "That's my thought."

The FDA is still investigating, but consumer advocates say the situation shows the need for stronger regulations for bottled water.

"It really is sort of the Wild West out there with a lot of smaller bottlers facing very infrequent, if any, inspections and testing by the government," Erik Olson, senior director, Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. said.

That's why the Carriers say they're speaking out and say they want people to be aware. "This can't happen to any more people. It's happened to enough. It's happened to enough," Ryan said.

The Carriers have filed a lawsuit against Real Water.

"We aren't going to leave any stone unturned", said the Carriers' attorney, Colby Williams, of Campbell and Williams in Las Vegas.  "Clearly there was a problem with the way either this water was manufactured, the way that it was tested or the way that it was dispensed."

In a court filing, the company denied the allegations.

Anyone with information or a story to share on this or any other issue, email us at consumer@cbsnews.com.

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