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Living with PIN

Some might never work again, says one victim

By Jeff Hansel

jhansel@postbulletin.com

The unique nature of a new neurological illness discovered in Austin has eclipsed stories of the individuals affected.

The workers at Quality Pork Processors in Austin diagnosed so far with progressive inflammatory neuropathy live in this community, and their children go to school locally.

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Yet their stories have melted into the background of what has become a national investigation.

"I just want people to know that some of these people are, in my mind, severely injured from this. They may or may not be able to work again. And if they do work, it’s going to have to be whatever light-duty type of job," said a person with PIN who declined to be identified.

Documents from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say people from early adulthood to near-retirement have been affected.

Several interviewed by the Post-Bulletin moved in arthritic-like manners, taking deliberate steps with strain evident on their faces. Some grimaced from the energy needed to stand.

"I got to the point where my son would put my walker in front of me, and he’d hold down on the walker so I could use that to pull myself out of the chair," said Susan Kruse, the only victim to go public so far.

Most continue to work — some, despite seemingly insurmountable physical limitations, said health and industry officials. Steroid and other treatments have helped, but they continue to experience the effects of spine and nerve inflammation.

All affected, investigators said, were exposed to a "head table," the spot inside the processing plants where meat is carved off the back of hog heads for use in cold cuts and hot dogs, and where products like brains, snouts and ears get harvested.

Several people diagnosed locally with PIN said their symptoms were so severe that they awoke unable to move; had to use wheelchairs; or lost sensation in their arms, legs, feet or hands. Others had loss of feeling, tingling, pain and numbness in their lower extremities.

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Seventeen people — men and women of several races — were sickened nationwide at three slaughterhouses: QPP, Indiana Packers Corp in Delphi, Ind.; and the Hormel Foods Corp. plant in Fremont, Neb.

Many suffer from severe, recurrent headaches.

Now, all involved, including those with confirmed PIN, hope to learn a definitive cause. While they wait, most continue the daily trek to the head table — where brains no longer are harvested.

"Some of these people’ve got families," one person with PIN said. "They need some assistance somehow, whether it’s a little extra money to help with groceries or to pay bills."

• The brain-harvesting process delineated — page A2

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