A family reunion in the Big Horn Mountains turned into a disaster for Becca and Chris Amen of Great Falls when 22 family members were hit by an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. Twelve had to be hospitalized, including Chris and the Amens’ three children, ages 2 and almost 1.
The strain of the bacteria, believed to have come from a heavy rainfall that pushed infectious water into the family’s area or a green vegetable, was so rare there was no antibiotic that could take it on. The infection hit children especially hard, stunting their kidneys.
The Amens’ son David, 2, developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a rare disease that affects kidneys and blood clotting. His platelet count was super low, and he’d started to bleed. He had to be flown to Seattle to see a pediatric nephrologist, a kidney expert. David’s situation turned around, and he was ready to come home within a week – terrifyingly skinny but recovering.
Becca traveled with David to Seattle, as Chris was only just home from the hospital and too weak to travel.
Benefis Foundation’s Angel Fund, which helps families who must travel for their children’s medical treatment, helped the Amens with travel costs. Last year, 58 families received $37,910 through Angel Fund.
Both parents are Benefis pharmacists, and also received help from the Caring For Our Own Fund.
“Everything was so stressful, and this made one thing less stressful. It makes it more manageable in the moment so you can take care of what you need to take care of, one crisis to the next,” Becca said.
Chris’ dad drove to Seattle to pick up Becca and David. Chris forgot to send the car seat with him, but they used Angel Funds for a new one and then later were able to donate the new car seat to a mom in need to pay it forward.
“There’s no way to express how grateful we are. Someone who didn’t know us took care of us at our lowest moment,” she added. “They didn’t know who would need their help, but they knew someone would, so they were willing to put that resource out there.”
“Four people in the hospital for more than a week added up,” Chris said. “The peds nurses got to know us very well.”
The Amens have been supporters, too. The programs seem more real having been the recipients, Chris said. “It’s humbling to be the one receiving that assistance.”