‘I thought I was going to die’: Years later the lingering impact of listeriosis

WATCH ABOVE: In an increasingly complex food system, are inspectors able to keep up? And are food recalls a sign of a broken system or a system working well? Allison Vuchnich reports.

Donna Hyland made herself a sandwich, like she had thousands of times — she had no idea that what she was about to eat would nearly kill her and change her life, forever.

“It was awful, I just thought I was going to die,” Hyland told Global News. “That’s how bad it was.”

Inside her sandwich, Hyland said, was ham tainted with listeria, a bacteria that can lead to a potentially life-threatening illness, listeriosis.

It was the summer of 2008, the presence of listeria in meat products caused a listeriosis outbreak, traced back to Maple Leaf Foods, which resulted in the deaths of 22 Canadians. Since then the company has become a leader in food safety.

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WATCH: Donna Hyland shares her story of being sickened by listeria

READ MORE: Navigating gaps in Canada’s food safety system

Even though it was close to seven years ago, Hyland, who was 77 at the time, said she has never fully recovered.

“My immune system is not completely gone but it is serious and I still have weakness, “ she told Global News.

With a weakened immune system, Hyland’s activities are limited and she avoids crowds; fearing if she picks up a bug or virus she would not be able to survive it. “I’ve been going downhill since then to tell you the truth,” Hyland said.

Her husband, John Hyland, told Global News, “her immune system has been severely compromised, she gets tired and can’t do very much,” he explained, “now it could be coupled with the aging process as well, I am not blaming everything on listeriosis, but it happened right after [she got sick].”
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WATCH: John Hyland discusses his wife Donna’s health since she was sickened by listeria in 2008.

Before getting sick, Hyland had never heard of listeria and like most Canadians she believed the food safety system would protect her.

“We had faith in our food system,” she said, adding, “now it’s different in this household. Let me tell you, everything is checked. Everything is checked.”

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, seniors, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are the most vulnerable for serious complications from listeriosis.

In 2014, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued 178 recalls for microbiological reasons, including E. coli, listeria, and salmonella, in a variety of products, including chicken strips, peanut butter, meat, cheese, greens and flax seed powder.

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READ MORE: Are food-borne illnesses, recalls on the rise in Canada?

For Hyland, her daily activities and life have been impacted by that one meal back in 2008.

“It was just horrendous. It was a terrible experience and I hope, pray to God, I never go through it again because I don’t think I would make it.”

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