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Listeria survivor reflects on experience

By Scott Harrison
Published On: Nov 19 2013 09:05:53 PM CST

A Colorado Springs man reflects on the day that two Colorado cantaloupe farmers responsible for a bacteria outbreak, meet with victims' families.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

While many of the families of people killed in the 2011 listeria outbreak confronted the farmers responsible, a survivor has his own questions about the situation.

Thomas Patterson of Colorado Springs spoke with KRDO NewsChannel 13 on Tuesday while the owners of Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo. -- Eric and Ryan Jensen -- meth with families of some of the 33 people killed by the deadly bacteria.  The meeting was part of the Jensens' guilty plea in the case.

The Jensens were available to answer questions from families.  Ninety miles away from that Denver meeting, Patterson posed his own questions.

"The way I feel is they kept going without making a change, and that's what makes me angry," he said.  "Would they have served the cantaloupe to their own families?  Did they think about what the impact would be in injuries and deaths?"

Patterson said he has nearly $40,000 in medical expenses but can't join the class action suit against the Jensens because doctors told him he had a less serious case of listeria.  Patterson said he's been disabled since he was shot in 1997 but has been cleared to seek work again.

"That's the one thing I most want to do, get back on my feet and take care of my family," he said.

Patterson said he remembers eating tainted cantaloupe in September 2011.

"I gave some to my wife and my 1-year-old son," he said.  "It was a very good melon.  I'd never tasted one that good."

Patterson said his wife and son became ill but quickly recovered.  That wasn't the case for him a week later.

"I had nausea, was confused, had a mild fever, had pressure in the back of my neck," he said.  "We hadn't heard about the outbreak, but once we did, my wife thought maybe I had listeria, and I thought that couldn't be."

But it was, as Patterson learned to his dismay at Memorial Hospital.

"The doctors immediately started suiting up, and spraying the room, and put me in an isolation ward," he said.  "It was like the movie, 'Outbreak.'  At one point, they asked if I wanted to speak to a priest."

Fortunately, Patterson recovered enough to leave the hospital.  But he said he still suffers from symptoms that doctors can't explain or cure.

"Friends used to make fun of me because I stay away from melons," he said.  "But I'm careful about what my family eats now."

In the 1997 shooting, Patterson said he was shot in a case of mistaken identity.  A man shot him, he said, while he was showing his ID to prove who he was to the shooter.  That shooter was never found.

"I've had two brushes with death," Patterson said.  "I guess I'm supposed to be here for a reason."

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