BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) — Less than three weeks ago, elementary students from Sullivan County, Washington County, Tennessee and Bristol, Tennessee schools took a field trip to the Appalachian Fairgrounds.
Avoca Elementary kindergartener Grayson Hefflin was among the group who visited on Sept. 26. Now, Hefflin is part of an outbreak of E. coli infections that have left at least seven children in the hospital.
“Since September 26, it has been a myriad of different symptoms in our family,” Grayson’s mother Diedre told News Channel 11.
Hefflin said Grayson presented minor symptoms on Sept. 27 but recovered fairly quickly.
About a week later, her 15-month-old, River, started acting fussier than usual. That didn’t raise any red flags, Hefflin said, as River is still teething.
“Saturday night is when it hit me that it was more,” said Hefflin. “At that point, we found out about the E. coli outbreak.”
River tested positive for shiga-toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) at Bristol Regional Medical Center on Oct. 7, Hefflin said.
As he was transferred to Niswonger Children’s Hospital, River continued to get sicker.
“Wednesday, he started vomiting, could not keep water down,” Hefflin said. “He had stopped eating, stopped drinking, totally.”
River began presenting symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication associated with STEC that affects kidney and blood clotting functions.
On Oct. 12, River was transferred again, this time to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville.
Hefflin spoke with News Channel 11 while River was in an operating room receiving dialysis ports and a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line.
“Aside from all of the overload of just medical jargon and information, is just an overwhelming amount of emotions,” Hefflin said of the experience. “But god has brought us really through this, through his grace and through the prayers of so, so many people that have seen our story that are reaching out.”
Hefflin’s second youngest son Elijah is also facing E. coli symptoms but had not yet been admitted to the hospital.
Hefflin’s family isn’t the only affected; in fact, she said a few doors down from River at the PICU in Knoxville is another patient who attended the field trip.
“We’ve all banded together and become a little community supporting each other through all of the symptoms and the questions and the resources of knowing what to do and where to go,” said Hefflin. “I’m really thankful for that.”
Hefflin said River’s recovery will likely keep him in Knoxville for at least a month.