E. coli victim family thankful for support

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Ronan Wilson came into the world too soon, born 12 weeks early.

He left in the same way, too soon.

Ronan, 4, died April 8 at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Ore. His death came after his body was overtaken by E. coli O157:H7 bacteria, which he contracted at his child care center.

In an interview with The Columbian, his parents, Bonnie and Anthony Wilson, said they’ve received a huge outpouring of support from the community. But the family also wishes the Clark County Health Department would have made a public announcement sooner so doctors and parents would have been more vigilant.

The first child at the center tested positive March 19. When Bonnie first took Ronan to see a doctor March 29, even though she mentioned a child had E. coli, the doctor assumed Ronan had the flu.

“We don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” Bonnie said. “My goal is to tell Ronan’s story and make it known that he mattered.”

Clark County health officer Dr. Alan Melnick said he didn’t shut down Fletch Family Daycare until April 2 out of concern that other parents who used the facility could take their children to different day cares and risk exposing others.

Melnick’s decision to close the facility came after tests showed seven more children and staff with no symptoms tested positive for the E. coli strain.

“This is really tragic and we’re certainly concerned about the kids who were hospitalized, but we’re also concerned about keeping this from spreading to other parts of the community,” Melnick said April 10.

The strain involved, E. coli O157:H7, is best known for its role in large outbreaks traced to ground beef or produce. However, person-to-person transmission can be a problem in day-care settings or nursing homes. In some cases, especially in young children, infection can lead to life-threatening complications.

Bonnie Wilson told The Columbian her son loved attending the center, as did his older brother, Gavin.

“I feel like she’s family,” she said of Dianne Fletch, one of the center operators. “I really think they did their best.”

Bonnie Wilson said her son had overcome being born premature and many of the colds and ear infections he suffered in his early years. Ronan loved trains, dinosaurs and dragons but was particularly fond of monkeys. When he went to a Build-A-Bear store and spotted a monkey, he knew right away that’s what he wanted.

“That was just his personality. He was very strong-willed,” Bonnie Wilson said.

Ronan arrived at Doernbecher on April 1, four days after first seeing a doctor. The E. coli first attacked Ronan’s kidneys, and he was put on dialysis. He had colon surgery April 3 and never woke up again.

Brain scans showed the bacteria had attacked his brain, and Ronan’s parents were told that if he did recover, he’d be physically disabled and brain-damaged.

Then Ronan’s brain began swelling. Ultimately, his parents were faced with the decision whether to crack open their son’s skull and allow the brain room to keep swelling or to say goodbye.

His parents are going forward. Bonnie says she allows herself to be angry and to cry, but she’s surprised herself with her strength.

“Ronan was an old soul,” she said. “He had a wiseness in his eyes.”

“Nobody knows their destiny,” she added. “But I think he knew he had to take in everything while he could. I think everyone should take that lesson.”

Information from: The Columbian, www.columbian.com

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