The listeriosis trauma gets even worse for mom and baby
Theto, 6 months, is about to undergo a third op, all because her mother liked Enterprise polony
Theto Ngobeni is not quite six months old and about to undergo a third operation to insert a shunt into the ventricles of her brain to prevent excess fluid from causing damage. And all because her mother had a thing for Mielie Kip chicken polony and other Enterprise products.
Born in a Polokwane hospital three days before Christmas, baby Theto and her mother Monthla are among 1,049 South Africans to contract listeriosis in the world’s worst outbreak of the deadly food-borne disease.
The latest National Institute of Communicable Diseases’ (NICD) listeriosis report reveals that 209 of those people have died.In late April Tiger Brands admitted that its independent tests had confirmed that the batch of processed meats which led the NICD to its factory door did indeed contain ST6 – the unique strain of listeria responsible for South Africa’s listeriosis outbreak.
The number of confirmed cases has dropped dramatically since certain Tiger Brands Enterprise products were named as the outbreak source, prompting the company to recall all its processed meat products. Sales of the polony brands which remain on the market are down 75%.
Ngobeni, 36, and her family had been huge consumers of Enterprise products, bought directly from its factory shop in Polokwane.Tragically, baby Theto was among the many babies who contracted the disease in their mother’s wombs. Many of them died within a month of birth and others, like Theto, are left with severe challenges.
Ngobeni’s favourite processed meat product was Mielie Kip chicken polony, which Tiger Brands quietly removed from trade in mid-February in a “soft recall”, weeks before the Health Department’s “listeriosis source” announcement, after its own sample tests found “low” levels of listeria.When newborn Theto’s little head starting swelling “like a balloon”, she was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a fairly common symptom of listeriosis.
In early January, at just two weeks old, her first shunt was inserted, but two months later it was blocked and she was back in theatre for it to be replaced with a new one.
“Now the swelling has started yet again,” Ngobeni told Times Select last week, “so she has to have another shunt inserted on the other side of her head because there’s too much fluid for just the one to drain.”
The surgery has had to be put on hold until the baby’s bout of coughing ends but Ngobeni had to rush Theto to the neurologist late onThursday to have fluid manually drained as the swelling was affecting her eye.
The months since Thetho’s birth have been a physical as well as emotional nightmare for Ngobeni. During her pregnancy she developed severe pain in her right hip, causing her to limp, and the pain has steadily got worse.
A scan recently revealed that she has avascular necrosis of the right femur head – death of bone tissue due to an interruption of the blood supply, causing the femur head to fracture.“I have to have a hip replacement, but I can’t until Theto has had her procedure, and in the meantime, I am battling on crutches,” she said.
“This is really too much now; moving around is incredibly painful for me.
“So far the doctors are not saying it’s linked to listeriosis, only that they usually see this in old people, but I’m convinced it’s related. My physician was amazed when he saw the scan – I never fell or had any trauma at all – it just happened.”
Ngobeni is the first of 10 people listed in the class action lodged by attorneys Richard Spoor Incorporated against Tiger Brands in March, and since consolidated with those of other legal firms.
In his affidavit, Spoor speaks of the many parents who “have suffered the unimaginable pain of losing children in horrific circumstances ... and those who survived face a life of blindness, deafness and cognitive disabilities.”
“I’ve dealt with many cases of listeriosis-linked hydrocephalus,” says US attorney Bill Marler, who is assisting with the class action lawsuit. Marler’s Seattle-based firm has handled thousands of food outbreak cases around the world in the past 25 years.
“In cases of babies with hydrocephalus, the extent of the impact the fluid had on the brain is usually not apparent until the child is around two years old, when verbalisation and other developmental yardsticks can be assessed,” Marler says.
The Nbubane family is also struggling financially as their medical scheme hasn’t covered the scans or the procedures in full.
“My husband has had to take out a loan,” Ngobeni said. “That polony has robbed us of such a lot. I feel like my daughter’s right to good health has been oppressed; mine as well. If it wasn’t for the support of my husband, mother, sister, the attorneys – who have helped with money too – and Mark Heywood of Section 27, I don’t know how we would be coping.”