This teen ate the peanut butter substitute. Then she became a Florida statistic

Lily O’Neal, 14, is now home with her family and fully recovered after being stricken with E. Coli this year. At left is her mother, Tracy O'Neal.
Lily O’Neal, 14, is now home with her family and fully recovered after being stricken with E. Coli this year. At left is her mother, Tracy O'Neal. jajones1@bradenton.com

A Manatee County teen is among 29 people nationwide suspected of falling ill during an E. coli outbreak linked to a peanut butter substitute.

During a monthlong stay in All Children’s Hospital, Lily O’Neal, 14, suffered kidney failure, went into a coma, couldn’t talk and suffered temporary paralysis, said her mother, Tracy O’Neal on Sunday.

“It was worse than we can ever describe,” Tracy O’Neal said of her daughter’s potentially life-threatening ordeal.

READ MORE: SoyNut Butter is recalled

“We couldn’t figure out what made her sick, and then we stumbled across it,” Tracy O’Neal said.

The culprit was I.M. Healthy SoyNut, a product that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked to a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, commonly referred to as E. coli.

I.M. Healthy products are widely available on the internet and in grocery stores. O’Neal said she purchased a bottle at a local supermarket, and still has her receipt.

READ MORE: Parents of 8-year-old sue company

Even though Lily is the only Floridian identified as having come down with the illness, there is a danger that other homes have I.M. Healthy products in their pantries.

“My feeling is that someone else around here has the product at home,” O’Neal said.

Twenty-nine people from 12 states have been infected with the outbreak of E. coli, the CDC reports on its website, cdc.gov.

READ MORE: E. Coli outbreak reaches Florida

Twelve have been hospitalized, and nine developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported, according to the CDC. Twenty-four of the 29 people who have fallen ill are younger than 18. The oldest victim is 57.

“Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicates that I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter is the likely source of this outbreak,” the CDC reports.

Fortunately, Lily made a full recovery and is fine now, Tracy O’Neal said.

Genetic fingerprinting allowed scientists to link the I.M. Healthy product with the E. coli outbreak victims, O’Neal said.

To date, most of the E. coli cases have been reported on the West Coast with nine in Oregon, five in California and four in Arizona. Washington state and Virginia have reported two cases each. States with one case include Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachussets, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri.

To date, all of the E. coli cases were reported between Jan. 4 and March 13.

“What’s most scary to us is that while the product was recalled in early March, a lot of parents haven’t heard about this,” said Jory Lange, a partner at Robin’s Cloud, a Houston law firm. “There may still be homes that have this stuff on their shelves. E. coli symptoms typically don’t show up for one to 10 days.”

To date, six lawsuits have been filed in federal court, and two in state court, all in Illinois, home base for I.M. Healthy.

“We keep getting calls from concerned parents who have this product,” Lange said.

CDC recommends that consumers not eat, and child care centers, schools, and other institutions not serve, any I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter, I.M. Healthy brand granola, Dixie Diner’s Club brand Carb Not Beanit Butter, or 20/20 Lifestyle Yogurt Peanut Crunch Bars, regardless of the date of purchase or the date listed on the container.

“Even if some of the product was eaten or served and no one got sick, throw the rest of it away. Put it in a sealed bag in the trash so that children, pets or other animals can’t eat it. This investigation is ongoing. CDC will provide updates as more information becomes available,” according to the CDC website.