Not long after 5-year-old Kade Maresh and his 3-year-old sister, Kallan, visited a petting zoo in Minnesota in early July, they began vomiting and had nonstop diarrhea. After several emergency room visits, they were rushed by ambulance to the University of Minnesota's children's hospital, where they fought for their lives, reports the Star Tribune. It was determined they'd contracted an especially dangerous strain of the E. coli bacterium, which led to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) after shiga toxins targeted tiny blood vessels and hampered their bodies' ability to transfer oxygen in red blood cells. Kallan, who would have turned 4 next month, soon died of multi-organ system failure, and her brother remains in critical condition, struggling to survive.
Most kids exposed to this strain of E. coli get better, but 10% to 15% don't, even after seeking medical care, reports CBS Minnesota. "It's very serious—potentially fatal," a kidney specialist says. "It can happen anywhere. It happens in the heart, happens in the brain, the gut, the liver, and the pancreas." Authorities are still investigating to determine where the siblings contracted the bacterium, which lives on cow feces and tends to be transmitted through food or in contaminated pools or lakes. In an "abundance of precaution," the petting zoo they visited took the animals off display. The family reports on CaringBridge that Kade has had a blood transfusion and is on dialysis. Their GoFundMe page to help with medical expenses has raised more than $63,000 as of this writing. (In spite of her E. coli illness, this woman wants more Chipotle.)