A little food poisoning isn't a big deal for most people. So when 2-year-old Grayson Dunham started vomiting and having diarrhea on August 10, his parents weren't super worried. According to Grayson's mom, Kayla, "We thought he had caught a little bug and kept him comfortable. Friday afternoon, he began getting worse with what we thought was abdominal pain, and I took him to the pediatrician."
At first, they were told it was most likely the stomach flu, but Grayson continued to feel worse and was up all night in pain. The next day, they noticed some blood in his stool. So back to the doctor they went. This time, Grayson was admitted for dehydration.
By the next day, Grayson was having diarrhea every 10 minutes and doctors—despite X-rays and ultrasounds—couldn't figure out what was wrong with him. The family was told it may be that his intestines were folding over themselves, causing the abdominal discomfort. Then another potential diagnosis pointed to his appendix.
By this point, Grayson had been transferred to the ICU of a nearby major hospital so that a pediatric surgical team would be nearby just in case. The doctors finally came in and were convinced that this time they had the right diagnosis: hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can occur after an E. coli infection. HUS blocks the kidneys' filtering system and destroys red blood cells.
Unfortunately, Grayson took a sharp turn for the worse later that night. His hemoglobin levels dropped from a normal range to zero, and despite having 20 doctors and nurses performing CPR on him for an hour and 45 minutes, Grayson passed at 4:30 a.m. on August 15.
His grieving mom shares in a Facebook post, "My heart is in shock, I'm numb, and I don't have words for what even happened. This wasn't supposed to happen. They thought he had good chances of getting through this his bacterial infection, which caused this was just too severe. (sic) My heart and body are empty right now."
She further explains that she's chosen to share their story online so that other parents won't have to experience the tragedy they did. "I am sharing my story with you all in hopes that as parents you stand up for your children and advocate for them. Never ever give up on them."
“We were misdiagnosed five times before they said, yes this is HUS,” she writes. "This is a common occurrence as E. coli is easily mistaken for other conditions with similar symptoms."
“It is a parent’s worst nightmare,” Kayla tells Today. “He had never been sick ... When you think of things happening, you think of severe illnesses like cancer or car accidents. You don’t think of E. coli.”
Dangerous strains of E. coli can be found in undercooked meat, unwashed contaminated fruits and vegetables and contaminated juice. It can also be spread by animals. It's important to note, however, that it's very rare for HUS to occur in most children, and of the small percentage who do have it, 90 percent of them recover with no lingering symptoms.
Kayla shares in a follow-up Facebook post: "The health department was unfortunately unable to determine where he picked it up from. We had visited the state fair, been around animals, visited the petting zoo, ate at restaurants and ate at home. We unfortunately had too many universal factors around us that it's almost impossible to pinpoint where it came from."
She urges parents to practice safe hygiene practices such as washing hands and making sure foods are cooked thoroughly, and to be aware of some of the major symptoms of HUS:
- Bloody diarrhea
- Decreased urination or blood in the urine
- Abdominal pain, vomiting and occasionally fever
- Small, unexplained bruises or bleeding from the nose or mouth
- Fatigue and irritability
- Confusion or seizures
- Swelling in the face, hands, feet or entire body
To honor their son, the family has established a fund in his name at Riley Children's Hospital.
Grayson's loss is especially poignant as he was getting ready to become a big brother soon. The Dunhams announced that they're expecting a baby girl—whom they plan to name Graysie, in honor of her big brother—in January 2017.
Photographs by: Kayla Dunham