Cancer patient killed by salmonella

June 6, 2008 5:14:08 PM PDT
Joy turns to heartbreak after a man survives a long battle with cancer only to die soon thereafter from salmonella poisoning, according to his grieving family. Now they are concerned that tainted tomatoes may have caused his death.The City of Houston health department has not yet definitively determined that it was the St. Paul strain of salmonella that killed RC Rivera. But the family says his doctor says it was salmonella that killed him, even though he was so far surviving cancer.

"It was the most bizarre thing I've ever seen in my life," recalled his wife, Barbara Rivera. "I mean, we felt like we were beating the cancer."

After a two month fight with an insurance company to get new treatment, Rivera and his family went out to eat.

Rivera's grandson Corey Lazar said, "We were so excited that there was something that we could do about his cancer. He was fighting it so well."

Family members say five of the seven people at the table got sick. The two who did not, did not eat pico de gallo.

"We're concerned about the fact that restaurants are still serving tomatoes," Barbara explained.

So far the city of Houston has seen two confirmed cases of the St. Paul strain of salmonella. Harris County has another 12 and the state of Texas has an additional 56 cases.

Houston Health Department spokesperson Kathy Barton said, "It's a fecal/oral transmission, so it can come from contaminated handling. It can come from a faulty process in the field, such as contaminated water that is splashing on the produce. It could also occasionally happen from some kind of handling in a processing plant."

The Rivera family spoke with Eyewitness News because they fear other families may unknowingly eat something that could make them sick, or worse.

"You just need to be aware," advised Corey. "You never know? We never thought a tomato with salmonella would put us in the situation where we are right now."

Rivera will be buried on Saturday. The city and county are investigating to determine if, in fact, it was the St. Paul strain of salmonella that killed him.

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