'I was as good as dead': new test cases added to listeria suit
Four new cases have been added to the class action against Tiger Brands that will be in court soon
There are 20 days in 65-year-old Johan Kieser’s life he can’t give any account of. While he was in a state of feverish delirium, with doctors at Mulbarton Hospital in Johannesburg racing to find out what was wrong, it was thanks to his wife Connie and a “fresh” pair of doctor’s eyes that he was tested for listeriosis.
“I was as good as dead for 20 days. I cannot recall a single incident, nothing.”
Kieser is one of four new test cases that have been added to the original 10 that form the basis of a class action against Tiger Brands. The other three new matters include a mother of five who lost her husband, a young family whose baby was born prematurely and suffered brain damage, and a mom from Manenberg in Cape Town whose daughter died a day after she was born.
The legal case relies on the fact that the outbreak strain of listeria monocytogenes – a specific strain of ST6 – which infected 91% of the people who died‚ was found at the Tiger Brands Enterprise factory in Polokwane.
As the food giant prepares to reopen its polony factories, seven months after the world’s biggest listeriosis outbreak, lawyers representing the victims are preparing to approach the Johannesburg High Court to have the class action against the company certified.
“When that’s done, we can proceed to argue for damages,” said Thami Malusi of Richard Spoor Attorneys. ‘Polony was all I ate for lunch’
Kieser, a production planner who has worked for the same company for 40 years, barely survived listeriosis in December.
“The pain I suffered was excruciating,” he says, “and I had to learn how to walk again after being discharged from hospital.
He was always a man of simple lunch needs – all he ever ate was Enterprise French polony on his bread.
“You can ask my wife. It’s French polony with cheese, or with tomato, or with lettuce. That’s all I ate. And we have never bought anything but Enterprise products, because nothing else tastes as good.”
Kieser said his wife was his saving grace. She took him to hospital when she battled to wake him up and insisted on tests after she heard the news about “this new virus”.
With blood tests confirmed, treatment kicked into higher gear.
“He was given five different types of antibiotics, because it was not clear which one he would respond to,” Connie recalls.
“It was a very anxious and stressful time, because I realised he could die.”
Kieser was unaware of anything happening around him.
Their two sons, Andre and Rudi, were asking her if their dad would ever be okay again. “I had no answer for them. I had no idea what to expect.”
After 12 days in ICU, he was finally moved to a recovery ward, and on January 29 he was finally sent home.
One evening, by chance, one of his sons saw a firm of attorneys talk about them representing victims of listeriosis, and the family contacted LHL Attorneys in Johannesburg.
The firm has since combined their cases with Richard Spoor Attorneys.
“I have full confidence that they will sort this out. They have all my documentation and hospital records; now I am waiting for them to do what’s best,” Johan said.
As for polony?
“Aikona, never never. When I really want the taste, I buy a small packet of viennas by another brand, but it’s not the same.” ‘My family has been torn apart’
More than 40% of the 1,065 listeriosis victims were babies less than four weeks old, who got listeriosis from their mothers while in the womb.
“Parents have suffered the unimaginable pain of losing children in horrific circumstances ... and those who survived face a life of blindness, deafness and cognitive disabilities,” says attorney Richard Spoor in his affidavit.
In his affidavit, Thato Mathole of Garankuwa, a 33-year-old mechanical fitter, tells how on October 20, his wife Nthabitseng Ramanamane, a university lecturer, gave birth to their son six weeks prematurely.
Baby Onkarabile had problems breathing, suffered organ failure and was bleeding from the head, he says.
He was diagnosed with brain damage and epilepsy, and had a shunt inserted into his brain to drain excess fluid into his stomach.
“I was told by doctors that my wife most likely contracted listeriosis from eating contaminated Enterprise meats, and our child got it from her.”
Ramanamane ate Enterprise polony and russians as a breakfast sandwich for at least a year before giving birth, he says.
Official lab tests confirmed that the baby had the outbreak strain of listeriosis when he was born.
“My family has been torn apart by this ordeal,” Mathole says.
“Our child will now have brain damage for the rest of his life. Coping with his special needs ... has been deeply unsettling for my family.”
Both parents have had to reduce their work commitments to care for their child, which has negatively affected their careers and finances.
“I am also deeply depressed because of this ordeal. It has negatively impacted on my relationship with my entire family.”
The family is claiming damages for loss of earnings, pain and suffering, medical expenses, and for the child’s loss of earnings and loss of amenities of life.
Carla Verlatt, 22, of Manenberg in Cape Town, a former domestic worker, gave birth prematurely on December 1 last year, and her daughter died the next day. “I had consumed Enterprise russians and viennas regularly for many years up until I gave birth,” she says in her affidavit.
“Before my daughter passed, she was in an incubator with tubes inserted into her. It was a deeply traumatic experience.
“Since my discharge from hospital I have suffered recurring nightmares of my child's death and I now suffer from depression owing to the traumatic ordeal I went through.
“I’m unable to keep gainful employment as a result.” ‘He was my best friend’
Capetonian Alana Julie’s suffering is also laid bare in her affidavit.
Her husband Antonio, a driver and stock controller, died in Groote Schuur Hospital on June 30 last year after contracting listeriosis.
The 38-year-old mother of five said her husband often ate Enterprise polony and viennas while on the road.
“He was my best friend and only companion, and since his passing I have lived a very lonely life,” she says.
“I now suffer from depression and struggle to find the energy to do simple tasks which I would previously have carried out with ease.”
She is also battling to support the family without his salary “as I do not earn nearly enough on my own”.