Mother Hospitalized With Potentially Fatal Botulism After Eating Nacho Cheese From Sacramento-Area Gas Station

A mother is fighting for her life after investigators say she contracted a rare and potentially deadly botulism after eating nacho cheese sauce at a gas station in the Sacramento area.

The illness started after April 21, when Lavinia Kelly decided to drizzle the Doritos she bought at the Valley Oak Food and Fuel gas station in Walnut Grove with nacho cheese sauce from the deli area.

After she started feeling ill, Kelly called her sister.

"My phone rings and I pick up the phone and it's her, and she can't articulate a word. And she's saying, basically she's saying 'Sister, I need you here now...'" Theresa Kelly told KTLA sister station KTXL in Sacramento on Tuesday.

That's how Theresa Kelly first came to realize the seriousness of the illness; Lavinia, who has been hospitalized for three weeks, has been fighting to breathe and even open her eyes.

Early on, Theresa thought she was going to lose her.

"Yeah, it's really scary. And to think if her and my mother had eaten there, my mom's older. If my mom had eaten there, I don't know if we would have lost both of them," she said.

Lavinia Kelly is one of at least five people being treated at area hospitals after contracting botulism that Sacramento County health investigators have linked to the nacho cheese served by Valley Oak Food and Fuel.

Botulism, which is potentially fatal, can be caused by eating foods that have been contaminated with botulinum toxin, often homemade items that have been improperly canned, preserved, or fermented, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms can include double vision, slurred speech and muscle weakness.

If left untreated, botulism can cause paralysis of the respiratory and other muscles.

Lavinia Kelly's three kids and the rest of her family have watched her struggle to regain even the slightest function as the toxins she swallowed attacked her nerve endings.

She's now spending her third week in intensive care.

"I've never seen my sister ... not have function of her body or be able to communicate. And I've never seen my sister on tubes or anything like that," Theresa Kelly told the station.

A month ago, Lavinia was eagerly helping her big sister start a new chapter in her life, sending her down the aisle.

Now, loved ones wonder what kind of life this illness will leave Lavinia with.

"Thank God that we know she can recover. We just don't know how long or how much effort and, and we've got somebody here every single morning, every single day. She's not left, not one minute. We want to make sure that she can communicate as much as possible," said Theresa.

"Somebody needs to be accountable. Somebody needs to pay attention to what the heck they're... what they're doing you know?  It's crazy," said Dawn Kelly, Lavinia's mother.

The Kelly family has turned to a Seattle firm specializing in food safety issues to pursue legal action against the gas station.

Owners there did not return KTXL's calls for comment as of Tuesday.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help defray the cost of Lavinia's medical treatment and support her family.