Family: Two siblings sickened with E. coli released from hospital, 5 others hospitalized

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A Knoxville family broke their silence Sunday after both of their kids were released from being treated in the hospital for E. coli.

Jordan and Stephanie Schiding said their kids got the illness from drinking raw milk. The Schidings said they gave their children a glass before bed for its health befits, not knowing the severity of the risks associated with it.

The family said they are speaking out to let others know how badly their kids have suffered. They say E. coli has affected their son and daughter's kidney's, which they said are only functioning at 50 percent.

The Schidings said they continue leaning on their faith and pray their kids will be totally healed.

"Our faith was everything, especially in those first couple of days watching them get worse," said Jordan Schiding, father of the two siblings hospitalized for E. coli. "The only thing we could do was pray, and that's what we did."

The Schidings have a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for their children's care, and plan to donate any excess funds to the other families with children at ETCH.

One child is still being treated for E. coli in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at East Tennessee Children's Hospital, and both places linked to the outbreaks have been given the OK to reopen.

A representative with ETCH said Monday doctors were still treating two children for E. Coli, one of them remaining in the PICU.

On Friday, an ETCH spokeswoman said one child was released, bringing the number of children still hospitalized to six.

On Thursday, a new case of E. Coli was identified after another child exhibited similar symptoms. The hospital said one of the children is still in serious condition.

Health officials have confirmed the cases are linked to two sources; Drinking raw milk from the French Broad Farm and exposure to farm animals at Kids Place Inc. Millertown Child Care Center. Both were shut down, but have since re-opened.

WVLT News on Thursday spoke with Drew Falkenstein, an attorney with Seattle-based law firm Marler Clark, that specializes in food safety law. The firm is actively investigating the case, and Falkenstein said he traveled to Knoxville last week to meet with about five or six families associated with both clusters of the E.coli outbreaks.

"A lot of sick kids in the outbreak," Falkenstein said. "This condition that some of them developed is called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and it can be pretty devastating."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HUD is characterized by the acute onset of microangiopathic hemolytic anemia, renal injury, and low platelet count. In other words, red blood cells are destroyed, which clog the filtering system in the kidneys and and can possibly leads to kidney failure.

Falkenstein said after the KCHD finishes its investigation and the children are all out of the hospital, it's likely they will move forward with lawsuits.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services ordered the shut down of the daycare. State officials allowed the center to reopen on Tuesday, June 12.

In a statement issued Monday from Kids Place Inc., the organization said they will keep the Baby House closed until Monday, June 18., calling the decision "an abundance of caution."

"TDHS made this decision after detailed conversations with the Knox County Health Department who has been investigating this outbreak and assures us the necessary precautions have been taken for the health risk to be mitigated," the department wrote in a statement. "We want parents to know their children’s safety has been our number one priority throughout this entire process."

TDHS said to reduce the risk of future outbreaks, the child care center agreed to a number of precautions including requiring children to remove their shoes before entering the Early Childhood Center which includes the Baby House where all E.coli cases at the center have occurred.

According to the East Tenenssee Children's Hospital, at least 12 cases of E. coli 0157 were reported, all among children. Only five of those cases are linked to Kids Place, none of which are still hospitalized.

Last week, the East Tennessee Children's Hospital had six patients under the age of four infected by E. coli. Four of the patients were in serious condition, but on June 11, the hospital said that number had been lowered to just two in serious condition. One patient is in fair condition. They said 6 patients overall were still being treated. That number increased to 7 on June 14. According to ETCH, the patient admitted Friday is connected to possible E. coli exposure at Kids Place.

"The safety of children at the Kids Place Inc. Millertown Child Care Center is our foremost concern," a representative for the Department of Human Services said. As far as what, if any charges would be filed, DHS said, "If there were to be any charges, they'd come from law enforcement. Our only action is ordering the child care facility closed until the health department's investigation clears the facility as safe."

Arnold continued, "Thursday it came to our attention the child care center had not, in fact, ceased operations throughout the entire facility. TDHS representatives informed the center that no child care operations are to occur anywhere on the property."

Arnold said that Kids Place cooperated during the investigation and that TDHS helped affected families find other child care options.

Melissa Allen is a parent of both a four and ten year-old that attended Kids Place. The Knox County native said she got a notification Wednesday about the outbreak. She still brought her four year-old daughter to daycare Thursday. She said "I told her 'bye' and 'see you later' and everything was fine. I dropped her off. The atmosphere was still positive. "

Allen only had positive things to say about the facility and added "[The owner] really felt like she had it under control. I can say she's been operating this place for years now and I really don't doubt her decision, really."

Kids Place released a statement saying, "The safety of all children is the top priority at Kids Place. When we learned that a child was diagnosed with E. coli infection, we took several immediate proactive steps. Kids place quickly notified all parents; contacted the Knox County Health Department; disinfected classrooms and common areas; installed a new outdoor surface; and closed the Baby House for toddlers."

Health officials are advising against drinking raw milk or any other unpasteurized products from French Broad Farm at this time and to throw any current supply out, due to a possible E. coli contamination.

On Thursday, KCHD reported that the restriction on the farm had been lifted, and they were allowed to sell milk again.

WVLT News reached out to the owners of French Broad Farm, Earl and Cheryl Cruze, who said they have no comment at this time.

East Tennessee Children's Hospital chief medical officer Dr. Joe Childs called the E. coli outbreak the "worst they've ever seen."

ETCH doctors last week said they had treated at least 10 children over 10 days for illnesses caused by E. coli bacteria.

E. coli are bacteria found in the environment, foods, and the intestines of people and animals. Buchanan said that when it comes to farm animals, they're not necessarily very clean. E. coli can come from a child petting an animal with feces in its fur and not wash their hands or touch animal droppings. The state Department of Human Services said they do not allow petting zoos in child care facilities.

"If you go to a petting zoo, they have hand sanitizer everywhere," Buchanan said. "You want your kids to use hand sanitizer after they go to the petting zoo to reduce the risk of getting sick."

She added that even though feces can be small and easy to miss, "you definitely can't see microbes."

"They are really small," Buchanan said. "1,800 can cover the head of a pen, but 10 of them will make you sick."

"I think the bottom line that parents need to understand is E. coli is a serious illness, but it's preventable also," Buchanan said.

Raw milk fanatics believe, once acquired, it tastes better. It is also rumored that raw milk helps prevent allergies. The FDA disagrees. They released some myth busters saying, if you are sensitive to milk proteins, it doesn't matter if the milk is pasteurized or raw.

The East Tennessee Children's Hospital said their stance is raw milk and other unpasteurized milk products are not worth the risk. Medical professionals recommended reading the following article for information on raw milk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said most strains of E. coli are harmless, while other kinds can cause diarrhea, severe stomach cramps, vomiting, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses. In severe cases, the infection can cause death. Children with any of these symptoms should seek care immediately.

"When this gets in the bloodstream, it damages small blood vessels in the body, temporarily," Childs said. "The kidneys are very sensitive to this, and they could fail."

People can be exposed to the bacteria from a number of sources. The following are some of the most common:

* Raw milk (milk that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria)
* Undercooked meat
* Unwashed, contaminated raw fruits and vegetables
* Animal feces
* Contaminated bodies of water

Parents and caregivers can help prevent E.coli infection by taking the following steps:

* Avoid consuming raw milk or dairy products made from raw milk.
* Cook meat to an internal temperature recommended by the FDA.
* Wash raw fruits and vegetables.
* Wash hands well before eating.
* Don’t drink the water from a pool, lake or river.

Find a full list of symptoms here.

This is a developing story. Updates will be posted here.