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Rare strain takes life of 4-year-old; leaves mother with health problems

Sophia and Karen Odens were both infected with E. coli bacteria. Karen is still struggling with the effects of the disease, and Sophia died Feb. 11, one day after her 4th birthday. SUBMITTED PHOTO

As if going through one tragedy isn’t hard enough, the Odens family is struggling through two.

Eric and Karen Odens’ little girl, Sophia, got sick with flu-like symptoms on Feb. 5. The following morning, the Pelican Rapids couple brought their daughter to the hospital in Detroit Lakes because the symptoms had gone from bad to worse.

A few days later, Sophia died of E. coli bacteria infection.

“They aren’t sure where it came from. They have some speculation, but nothing for sure,” Dave Johnson said. Johnson is a family friend and is organizing a benefit for the Odens family.

Karen’s father, Ed Welke, lives in Detroit Lakes, where Karen was born and raised, graduating from Detroit Lakes High School in 1997.

While Karen was with her daughter in Sanford Health, Sioux Falls, S.D., she became sick with the same symptoms as well.

“They are speculating that she got it from Sophia,” Johnson said.

Karen was hospitalized for a total of 34 days, with 14 of those days in intensive care in Sanford Sioux Falls. She went through kidney dialysis and plasma exchange while in the hospital.

Though she is home now, Karen’s battle isn’t over. She continues treatments and has been unable to return to work.

“There is permanent damage to her kidneys, and she will probably eventually need a kidney transplant,” Johnson said.

While E. coli bacteria can live in the intestines of healthy people and animals, there are various strains of the bacteria, and some are worse than others. E. coli O157:H7 is the worst, and that’s the strain that Karen and Sophia contracted.

According to Johnson, the family’s medical bills have grown to over $1 million, and roughly 20 percent of that is not covered by insurance.

Sophia’s story

“Her gentle smile could melt the hearts of those around her” is how family members described Sophia in her obituary.

Like her mother, Sophia got sick from E. coli bacteria. On Feb. 5, she came down with what seemed like the flu, so the next day her parents took her to the hospital in Detroit Lakes.

She was transferred to Sanford Health in Fargo, and after two days of tests, doctors determined that she had E. Coli, strain 0157:H7, which brings on hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening form of kidney failure, which caused her kidneys to shut down.

That night, Feb. 7, she was airlifted to Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D. She had multiple surgeries and kidney dialysis.

She died four days later, one day after her 4th birthday.

Sophia’s obituary describes her as “a very artistic little girl who loved to paint and draw pictures. She enjoyed playing My Little Ponies and spending lazy summer days down at the beach with mom.

“She loved to sing and dance and play dress up, especially with her doctor’s uniform, helping stuffed animals and her dog, Buddy, feel better.

“She was daddy’s little girl, who liked when he painted her nails and in return would have a game of floor hockey.”

Karen’s story

After graduating from Detroit Lakes High School, Karen attended North Dakota State University for pharmacy. She graduated in 2003, and interned at Pelican Drug in Pelican Rapids. She continued to work there until her illness.

She and her husband, Eric, have been married for seven years. Sophia was their only child.

Johnson said that Karen is still battling her health issues, being hospitalized four times in the last month or so. He said that she has tried to return to work twice, only working for a couple hours, but it took such a toll on her that the next day she would need to be on oxygen.

The family has no idea if or when she’ll be able to return to work.

While Karen was sick, Eric stayed with her, and he now takes her to medical appointments. Johnson said the family income has obviously shifted greatly in the last several months, hence the benefit Johnson is organizing.

Family benefit

A benefit for the Odens family is scheduled for Friday, June 6, beginning at 5 p.m. in Faith Lutheran Church, Pelican Rapids. There will be a meal and bake sale at the church. Donated bake goods can be dropped off at the church any time after 1 p.m. on June 6.

Then at 7, the benefit will move to the Pelican Supper Club, where there will be live and silent auctions, raffles and live music.

Johnson also serves as bass player in the band Fuse, and they will be performing that night.

The Pelican Supper Club is also giving a percentage of the total sales that night back to the family.

Johnson said there will be numerous live and silent auction items. A few include the 2014 National Championship Bison football signed by all of the team members, carved wooden decoys and more.

Some of the raffle items include guns, half a pig, wheelbarrow of liquor, battery-operated kid’s tractor and trailer, a quilt, $200 gas card and more.

Johnson said he’s still picking up donated items for the auctions. Anyone willing to donate can contact him at 218-731-0467 or

“Our goal is to get 500 people to both events,” he said.

Monetary donations can also be made to any Bell State Bank & Trust location.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.