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ONLY ON KOLD: One bad bite

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Jay Killen struggles to even eat a spoonful of chocolate pudding after more than two years in and out of the hospital. Jay Killen struggles to even eat a spoonful of chocolate pudding after more than two years in and out of the hospital.

A man is fighting to stay alive after his wife says one bad bite of food destroyed their lives.

Mid-South doctors had never seen a case like this before; it is a condition so rare, they contacted the Department of Homeland Security.

"One thing he ate changed our entire lives," Amanda Killen said.

Jay Killen struggles to even eat a spoonful of chocolate pudding after more than two years in and out of the hospital.

"This is the first I've been able to feed myself," Jay said.

Around Thanksgiving, in 2011, Jay got sick.

"I thought I was having a stroke or something," he explained.

So did doctors in the emergency room.

He was unable to move or even breathe; Jay was hooked up to a ventilator and placed in intensive care. By Day 6, doctors prepared to declare the 40-something former construction worker brain dead.

"He took me right outside the room and said, 'I have to tell you that it doesn't look good,'" his wife said.

Paralyzed and unable to speak, Jay was desperate to let everyone know he was awake and aware of his dire circumstances.

"I said 'God, please! Please help me show them I'm here.'"

Amanda played Jay's favorite music at his bedside and noted his leg moved in rhythm. Amanda's mother demanded doctors investigate.

"He said, 'Jay, move your leg.' I did," Jay said.

"He (the doctor) said, 'We've got this wrong.' He said, 'We need to figure out what this is but it's not what we think it is,'" Amanda said.

After conferring with researchers at the Centers for Disease Control, doctors determined Jay had contracted botulism. It's a disease that affects fewer than 150 people a year in the United States.

"It paralyzes all of your voluntary muscle function," Amanda explained.

The rare illness is caused by eating food containing the toxic bacteria botulinum. Moving your body and the simple acts of swallowing, blinking, and breathing becomes impossible. Jay was on a ventilator for 11 months. Adult cases of botulism are so rare, the Department of Homeland Security launched an investigation into the source of Jay's infection.

"It may have been a can of beets we had," Amanda said.

The Centers for Disease Control warns food borne botulism can come from home-canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn. It is caused by failure to follow proper canning methods.

Cases have also been linked to store-bought canned goods that were improperly handled by manufacturers, retailers, or consumers. Examples include chopped garlic oil, canned cheese sauce, chili peppers, tomatoes, carrot juice and baked potatoes wrapped in foil.

"You get to the point where it really doesn't matter where it came from because it's not going to change anything," Amanda explained.

"Yeah, it's done. You got it. Deal with it," Jay added.

After months tending to her husband, Amanda returned to work, in part, to preserve their health insurance. Jay was unable to even push a nurse call button, so volunteers signed up for weekly two- and three-hour shifts.

"These people showed up week after week. I know I got calls if someone couldn't be there to substitute," said the couple's friend, Malisa Burgess.

Jay couldn't speak but regained his ability to blink. Blinking became his means of communication as visitors recited the alphabet.

"I would say at ‘A,' and I'd say the alphabet, and he'd stop me on the letter I'd write down. And then we'd go to the next letter," Amanda said.

"It was the grace of God and the grace of mankind that I was alive," Jay said.

Now in occupational therapy, Jay refuses to let botulism beat him, and he hopes his story of survival, thanks to family and friends and his faith, serves as a warning.

"If you have a canned product, if it's dented, return it. Throw it away. Don't eat it," Jay said.

An interesting side effect from Jay's illness is that he has fewer wrinkles. Botulism comes from the same toxin used in Botox cosmetic procedures.

Copyright 2014 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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