Helen Pigg was still relatively spry back in 2011, at least for an 81-year-old. She was healthy and active, the historian for an association of retired Richardson school teachers and a supporter, online at least, of various progressive causes from the abolition of nuclear weapons to attacks on Chick-fil-A for its stance on gay issues. Then, that summer, she visited the Kroger at Coit and Belt Line roads in Richardson and bought a cantaloupe.
The first symptoms hit September 6, shortly after she'd dined on the melon, and got worse from there. She was vomiting and had bloody diarrhea, came down with a fever and suffered neurological problems. She was quickly taken to the hospital, where she remained for nearly a month. Doctors made the diagnosis and the Dallas County Health Department confirmed: She'd contracted listeriosis, a food-borne illness caused by bacteria.
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Pigg's craving for cantaloupe couldn't have come at a worse time. In the days before she bought the fruit, a small handful of Coloradans had fallen ill with listeriosis, but it wasn't until September 6, the day she checked into the hospital, that the CDC realized it had an outbreak and had traced it to cantaloupe. Several more days would pass before public health officials were able to trace the outbreak to Colorado's Jensen Farms and convince the company to initiate a recall. All told, 146 people in 28 states were sickened. Thirty of them died.
In that respect, Pigg was lucky. She was released from the hospital on October 2 and returned to her home near Richardson High School. But her bout with listeriosis had taken its toll. Gone was the lively octogenarian. In her place was an elderly woman who required constant care and frequent trips to hospitals and nursing homes.
Pigg and her husband filed a lawsuit on Wednesday blaming this on the cantaloupe. They allege negligence against Kroger, for selling the cantaloupe; Frontera Produce, for supplying it; and against the Primus Group for giving Jensen Farms a 96-percent score during an audit two weeks before the first listeriosis case was diagnosed. The couple is seeking unspecified damages.
One question the case raise is to what degree the listeriosis caused or accelerated Pigg's deterioration and how much is just old age. "She has dementia," her husband, Elijah Pigg, tells Unfair Park. "I could not tell you whether the cantaloupe had anything to do with her dementia or not. It happened all at the same time."