“No child should end up in the hospital for a piece of pizza”

Aurélie, 34, and her husband John, 40, led “normal family life”. Everything was turned upside down when their two sons fell seriously ill, poisoned by the E. coli bacteria via Buitoni pizzas, a brand of the food giant Nestlé. With the parents of around fifty other children with kidney failure linked to E. coli contamination, this couple from Hérault filed a complaint. For that“no child ends up in the hospital for a simple piece of pizza anymore”they confided during a long interview in Montpellier, an hour’s drive from their home.

The two boys of Aurélie Micouleau and John Delpech have developed what scientists call hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which particularly affects young children. Between medical appointments, weighed down by feelings of guilt and helplessness, the parents, who also have a 12-year-old daughter, have been living for two months “like zombies”. “First there was the 5-year-old one”the youngest, who “begins to have a stomach ache, to vomit, to have diarrhea”remembers Aurélie. “Simple Gastro”, first responds the family doctor. A few days later, the child is however taken to the emergency room.

“There, we did not understand what was happening to us. We are told about dialysis, kidney disease, that it can go to the heart, the lungs, the brain, and that there will be lifelong sequelae”, continues the young mother at home. The vital prognosis is at this time engaged and the boy placed on dialysis. Wake, “He was crying, he was screaming: ‘Mom, stop hurting me'”. New shock, in the wake, when their 10-year-old son is hospitalized with the same symptoms.

“Race for Profit”

The two boys have now returned home. But the kidney damage is irreversible, assures John, who put his business activity on hold: “No doctor is able to tell us if their condition will deteriorate in a month or in twenty years.” On March 18, Nestlé announced the withdrawal-recall of Buitoni pizzas from the Fraîch’Up range, after being informed of the presence of the bacteria in the dough of a product. These pizzas, distributed in 23 countries, correspond to those purchased by the couple.

In France, 53 cases are now confirmed, according to the latest point from Public Health France. Investigations are underway for 26 others. Two children have died, although the connection to the pizzas has not been confirmed. On March 22, an investigation for “manslaughter”, “deception” and “endangering the lives of others” was opened at the public health center of the Paris public prosecutor’s office.

In early April, the prefect of the North banned the production of pizzas at the Buitoni factory in Caudry, near Cambrai. The inspections have “highlighted a degraded level of food hygiene control”. “I’m waiting for justice to do its job. Let’s look at why we’ve come to this, why they took so long before closing the factory. They’re still big groups, I don’t see how we can accept having factories in this state”indignant Mr. Delpech, denouncing the “Race for profit at all costs”.

“Buitoni, in its willingness to cooperate and with respect for the suffering of families, continues to seek all possible origins of this bacterium”reacted on Friday a spokesperson for Buitoni, to whom AFP had shared the criticisms and questions of the couple: “This situation is all the more intolerable for us as children are concerned.” With their lawyer, Me Pierre Dubuisson, and the other families concerned, the couple is determined to “go to the end criminally”whatever compensation he might get: the money “Won’t bring back my children’s kidneys”believes Aurélie Micouleau.

“I took that pizza out of the freezer, I baked it, I can still see myself giving it to them at the table”she regrets. “Our role is to protect them, and I couldn’t protect my children from a piece of pizza.”

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