The doctor had never seen red blood cell numbers as bad. Two-year-old Cole was in acute kidney failure. He couldn’t get rid of the fluid that was quickly stealing his ability to breathe.

Cole’s sister, 4-year-old Macy was also sick, though not as critically ill. It was clear, however, that she would be if something weren’t done.

The question: What was causing the children’s kidneys to shut down?

The answer: hemolytic uremic syndrome resulting from e. coli infection.

The cause: probably ingestion of tainted lake water.

The treatment: transfusion with red blood cells and plasma.

Cole received four units of red blood cells and two units of plasma. Macy received three units of red blood cells and one unit of plasma.

The result: two once-again healthy children plus a quarterly blood drive in Cole and Macy’s honor at the Church of the Resurrection where the family attends services.

“I’d never have thought I’d have both my kids in the hospital needing blood,“ says Stephanie. “Now we give at every blood drive.“

The plea: In Stephanie’s words, “Don’t wait until someone is in dire need. Give blood now.“

Hemolytic (HEE-mo-LIT-ik) uremic (yoo-REE-mik) syndrome, or HUS, is one of the most common causes of sudden, short-term kidney failure in children. In severe cases, this acute kidney failure may require several sessions of dialysis to temporarily take over the kidneys’ job of filtering wastes from the blood, but most children recover without permanent damage to their health.

Course of the Disease Most cases of HUS occur after an infection of the digestive system by Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacterium, which is found in foods like meat, dairy products, and juice when they are contaminated. Some people have contracted HUS after swimming in pools or lakes contaminated with feces. Washing and cooking foods adequately, avoiding undercooked meats, and avoiding unclean swimming areas are the best ways to protect your child from this disease.

Infection of the digestive tract is called gastroenteritis and may cause your child to vomit and have stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. Most children who experience gastroenteritis recover fully in 2 or 3 days and do not develop HUS. In a few children, however, HUS develops when the bacteria lodged in the digestive system make toxins that enter the bloodstream and start to destroy red blood cells.