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Child Killed by E. Coli Buried

September 11, 1999

MALTA, N.Y. (AP) _ Standing in the chilly drizzle, Wayne and Lori Aldrich released colored balloons Friday as they buried their 3-year-old daughter Rachel _ the first victim of what could turn out to be the worst E. coli outbreak in U.S. history.

Then they headed back to the hospital to stand vigil over their 2-year-old daughter Kaylea, who was struggling with kidney failure after sipping a glass of water with her sister on Aug. 28 at the Washington County Fair.

More than 600 suspected cases of contamination have been reported from the fair, held 30 miles north of Albany, making it New York state’s largest E. coli outbreak ever.

Dr. Antonia Novello, the state health commissioner, said Friday the number of cases could exceed 1,000 once the outbreak runs its course. That would make it worse than the 1993 E. coli outbreak that sickened 700 patrons of Jack in the Box restaurants in Washington state and killed four.

Eight other children from the fair were on dialysis Friday at Albany Medical Center Hospital as doctors tried to filter toxins from their blood. Two other children and two adults also remained hospitalized.

Rain runoff is believed to have washed the E. coli bacteria from cow manure at a nearby cattle barn into the fair’s underground water supply.

After a graveside memorial service underneath a canopy of pine trees, Ms. Aldrich described Rachel as ``happy, vivacious, full of fun and compassion.″

``When we were at the fair, there were balloons released,″ the girl’s father said. ``Rachel asked why and at the time I didn’t know, but today I was inspired. Sometimes things you love just slip away from you.″

The family had spent a carefree day at the fair, which is an end-of-summer tradition that has been going on for 109 years. It was a day of merry-go-rounds, games and petting zoo animals.

Aldrich said the day at the fair was Rachel’s ``last day of fun in this world.″

``We went out to have a good time and the girls really enjoyed themselves,″ he said.

The girls became sick a day later. A week later, Rachel was dead because of hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can result in kidney failure.

On Friday, just moments after Rachel’s service, the Aldriches received some good news: After three days of dialysis, Kaylea was well enough not to need the treatment that day.

Children, because of their undeveloped immune systems, are more susceptible to being sickened by E. coli and the serious complications that can result.

Like many other families, the Aldriches have spent the last week at the hospital, praying for their child to recover.

``Unfortunately, we can’t sit down and tell a specific family their kid is going to be fine,″ said Dr. Raymond Walsh, a pediatric critical care specialist at the hospital. ``We don’t have any good answers to give them other than telling them most kids do recover from this.″

Walsh said undergoing dialysis is frightening for children.

``One kid woke up the other night and saw the tubes in her and thought they were snakes,″ he said. ``Most of them are under 5 years old and don’t really understand what they’re going through.″

After the funeral, Aldrich implored the public to remember the other ailing children by donating blood or helping in any way possible.

``There are a lot of sick babies right now,″ he said. ``And I don’t know what I’d do if I lost another one.″

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