Canada

'My life is totally destroyed': Toronto botulism victim

A Toronto couple is suing an American food company 18 months after they contracted a severe case of botulism from drinking contaminated carrot juice.

A Toronto couple is suing an American food company a year after they contracted a severe case of botulism from drinking contaminated carrot juice.

Botulism victim Susanna Chen told CBC News on Tuesday that she cannot breathe without supplemental oxygen. ((CBC))

Susanna Chen and her partner, Andy Valy, told CBC News on Tuesday that they still suffer serious health problems from the disease.

Chen, who was in a coma for two months, is still in hospital. She said she has difficulty walking and cannot breathe without the help of additional oxygen. Her common-law husband has been able to return to the couple's Etobicoke home, but he still has trouble breathing.

Chen, a former dancer who had a successful career in business, said having botulism has been devastating.

"My life is totally destroyed," she said. "I'm depressed and it's very dark, it's not like before. It's the uncertainty. I don't know where I'm going from here."

The amount the couple is suing for has not been disclosed. 

Chen and Valy fell ill in the fall of 2006 after drinking carrot juice produced by California's Bolthouse Farms. The beverage tested positive for the botulism toxin, the Toronto public health department confirmed.

It had been ordered off North American shelves after four cases of botulism emerged in the United States.

Bolthouse said the incidents may have resulted from improper refrigeration. Carrot juice is low in acids, so bacteria can grow in it if it is kept at temperatures warmer than 7 C.

"What they went through, you wouldn't wish on your worst enemies," the couple's lawyer, Michael Shannon, told CBC News. "They were prisoners in their own bodies."

Botulism is a rare and potentially deadly disease that must be treated quickly with an antitoxin, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The symptoms vary according to the type of botulism and the degree of exposure to the toxin. They include double or blurred vision, difficulty speaking and swallowing, dry mouth and fatigue. Paralysis can set in, affecting the face, head, throat, chest and extremities, and death can result from respiratory failure.

The antitoxin treatment doesn't reverse the effects of the disease, but can prevent further paralysis.