MAQUOKETA, Iowa — When 2-year-old Calvin “Cal” Notz twirled around his living room in pajamas to the “Frozen” soundtrack last week, his friends and family felt joy and relief.
A video of Cal garnered hundreds of likes and comments on Facebook, not just because Cal is cute, but because until last week, his family feared Cal might spend the summer in the hospital.
Cal was one of three Maquoketa children hospitalized in late May for hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious complication that can be caused by shiga toxin-producing E. coli, also known as STEC.
All of the children have since made it home, and no new related cases have sprung up, though health officials were not able to determine the source of the outbreak.
Jackson County officials, through partner Genesis Visiting Nurse Association, began an investigation to determine what might have caused the outbreak. Genesis VNA Community Health Manager Michele Cullen said the investigation, which involved contact tracing and coordination with local health offices, has since been closed with no source identified.
Cullen said no connection was found among the children who developed the STEC infections. Outbreaks can be caused by contaminated food, unpasteurized milk, infected water or the feces of infected animals or people.
The Iowa Department of Public Health did not provide comments as requested about the Maquoketa outbreak or E. coli investigations generally for this story.
Cal first began feeling sick on May 21. When more serious symptoms appeared on May 23, Cal was taken to urgent care. By May 25, Cal was transferred to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, where he stayed for seven weeks.
Cal’s parents, Nichole and Matt Notz, learned on the morning of July 13 that Cal had improved enough to go home.
Nichole Notz put out the word, and by the time they pulled up to the driveway that afternoon, friends from Prairie Creek Church and their community were waiting, lining the streets with signs and cheers.
“We’re just super, super happy to be home and excited to enjoy some of the summer before it’s gone,” Notz said.
Though Cal is home, Notz said he hasn’t completely recovered. The family is still waiting to see what lingering effects Cal’s strokes and time on dialysis might have on his brain and kidneys.
Cal still has to use a nasogastric feeding tube. Notz said Cal isn’t speaking as much as he did before he got sick.
“We’ll be super good friends with the nephrology team in Iowa City for quite a while,” Notz said.
Notz said what Cal missed most while in the hospital was his brothers, Bradyn and Asher Notz.
“He just loves them so much, and they just love him,” Nichole said.
One-year-old Briella Davis also was ill. Her mother, Maggie Ward, said Briella is still on medication for high blood pressure and will have doctor appointments every three months.
“Briella is doing really well,” Maggie Ward said in a Facebook message Tuesday. “We have had one follow-up appointment with her doctor, and they were happy with all her labs/levels.”
Twelve-year-old Shane Howell spent 17 days in the hospital. Shane spent some of that time on dialysis and suffered several strokes. Back at home, he is dealing with the stress left behind by the long hospital stay.
“It’s very frustrating not knowing the cause,” said Shane’s mother, Jessi Howell. “We were told in most cases you may never find out the actual cause. That doesn’t sit well with me. It’s very upsetting, everything that these kids suffered from.”
Howell said Shane is looking forward to playing football this August.
“I thank God every day for the medical teams, for friends and family that have reached out and offered help and for all the prayers,” Howell said.