Petting Zoo Under Investigation After Child’s E. Coli Death

by Valerie Williams
Image via GoFundMe

A little girl has died and her brother is still in the hospital after contracting a strain of E. coli

After contracting a strain of E. coli, a little girl has died and her older brother remains hospitalized in critical condition. The children became ill shortly after a July 9th visit to a petting zoo, which health officials are now investigating as a possible source of the bacteria that made them sick.

Three-year-old Kallen Maresh died on July 16th after toxins from a shiga toxin-producing bacteria (STEC) caused damage to her kidneys and neurological system. Her parents wrote the sad update on their CaringBridge page this week. “Our sweet sweet little girl lost the battle and went to heaven last night.”

Image via GoFundMe

Parents Joseph and Tyffani Maresh wrote of their heartbreaking last moments with their daughter. “We were able to give Kallan a bath and put her favorite jammies on her. We got to hold her free of tubes and snuggle and kiss her. She is the most amazing little girl in the world. Our hearts are aching with the deepest sadness.”

According to the Star Tribune, the Minnesota family is grieving the loss of their child but also, focusing on five-year-old son Kade’s recovery, as he remains in the hospital due to complications from E. coli infection. He’s received blood transfusions and is currently on kidney dialysis. The parents continue giving updates on his condition through their CaringBridge site with the latest providing hope that his recovery is progressing.

“Kade’s labs are still not where we want to see them but that is to be expected when you have kidneys that are not functioning. With that being said he did not need any transfusions or procedures today- so today was a day of dialysis, keeping him comfortable, his blood pressure controlled, and his pain and nausea under control. It was a success,” they write.

The Minnesota Department of Health is now investigating the source of the E. coli bacteria that infected the Maresh children while Fox9 reports that officials, “out of an abundance of caution,” have asked the petting zoo the family visited the day the kids became sick to take the farm animals off display.

State Public Health Veterinarian Joni Scheftel tells Fox9 that the zoo is cooperating with officials. “They’ve been very cooperative, very helpful, but again the investigation is ongoing and we’re investigating multiple sources, not just the petting zoo,” she says.

Scheftel also explained the importance of taking precautions when coming into contact with animals. “It’s really important to wash your hands immediately after visiting the animals. The second thing is avoiding hand to mouth contact, so that means not eating or drinking around the animals, that means removing pacifiers or bottles, while you’re visiting the animals.”

Contact with animals is not the only way someone could become infected with E. coli. Other sources include contaminated meat or produce, swimming pools, contaminated drinking water or swimming in contaminated lake water. In addition to investigating the petting zoo, officials are asking the Maresh family questions about what their children ate and other places they visited around the time they became ill.

The children first exhibited symptoms of non-stop vomiting and bloody diarrhea later in the evening on the same day they visited the petting zoo. It took many emergency room visits before lab work on both kids indicated acute kidney failure as a result of contracting the STEC bacteria.

According to the CDC, most strains of E. coli bacteria are harmless, but others can make a person very ill. Some E. coli bacteria can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, and pneumonia. Others, such as the STEC strain the Maresh kids contracted, have much more serious health implications.

If you would like to help the Maresh family, there’s a GoFundMe page collecting funds for Kade’s continuing medical needs.

The parents end their latest CaringBridge update with a heartbreaking plea.

“Kiss your babies on their soft cheeks and hold them super tight tonight- I would do absolutely anything to do that again with Kallan.”