Family remembers ‘a life that could have been’

Siblings Kylie and Ian McDonald were both made ill by E.coli-tainted water in Walkerton in May of 2000. SCOTT DUNN/The Sun Times

Sun Times staff
LONDON — Ian McDonald was fighting for his life when the same wave of wrenching gut cramps caused by E. coli bacteria attacked his three-year-old sister Kylie.
Ian, 4, was already gravely ill when his mother, Cathy McDonald, noticed blood in his urine and doctors had him transferred from hospital in Walkerton to London.
She travelled in a police cruiser that accompanied Ian’s ambulance when the air ambulance was unavailable. Her husband Jamie McDonald was an OPP constable stationed in Walkerton then.
Ian’s arms were black and blue from IV injections. He’d been throwing up blood in Walkerton and he was dying.
His condition worsened in London. A surgeon had to open him up to stop an internal bleed before he was placed on dialysis in the middle of the night.
Hours before that, word came that Kylie had it too. Room was found for her in the fast-filling facility, in the floor above where Ian lay. Her kidneys were failing too.

With both parents in London now, their two-year-old Alex stayed with Jamie’s parents in Owen Sound, feeling forgotten, Cathy said. Alex never contracted the potentially deadly bug.
Kylie, now 13 and in Grade 8, excels in soccer, basketball, baseball, volleyball, track and more. She dreams of competing in the Olympics. She may study archeology.
But she has a weakened heart muscle, which doctors say was caused by an “extraordinary illness,” with E. coli the obvious culprit, Jamie said.
The abnormality doesn’t bother her and she requires no medication. She is to have it checked every two years.
Beyond an overwhelming and lasting fear of needles, Kylie said she has put the experience behind her.
Concerns about Ian remain.
He has some cognitive impairment, caused by a neurological injury resulting from E. coli poisoning, Jamie said. The spilling of protein in his urine indicates he may have more serious kidney and health issues down the road.
Jamie and Cathy McDonald said the disaster no longer commands their attention like it did for years. But uncertainty about the future leaves them waiting for the other shoe to drop, both said.
Ian, 14, appears serious and intense when answering questions. But when Kylie throws her arms around him warmly, he smiles easily. Seeing this, his mother encourages him to flash that smile more.
“I don’t really think about it as much as I used to,” he said of his three-week fight for survival, of which he remembers very little. “The last 10 years haven’t been the best.”
But he quickly added it’s getting “a lot better.”
For the first five years, Ian underwent examinations in London or Toronto weekly.
“There are some complications that he has that they just haven’t encountered before,” Jamie McDonald said. “And some of it still does remain a mystery.”
Ian plays guitar, favours death metal and is an avid gamer. He’s in Grade 9, where his favourite subjects include computers, chemistry and biology.
He’s also in the army cadets where he enjoys winter survival training and marksmanship. He hopes to study computer science and enter the military.
“I just like the fact that I’d be defending something.”
Today the McDonalds live in a large new home in London. It has a bacteria-killing ultraviolet water filter hooked up to London’s municipal water system. Their second daughter, Katie, was born in London nine years ago.
Cathy McDonald said she and her husband guard against being overprotective of their children.
“It makes you more alert,” she said of the water disaster’s psychological impact. “If something happens to your kid, you’re going to be the first to advocate out there, whatever it is.”
The McDonalds had intended to remain in Walkerton for the rest of their lives. The family moved to London because it was closer to medical experts for Ian.
But when driving to Owen Sound to visit Jamie’s parents, he said they make a point of driving through Walkerton to remember “a life that could have been.”


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