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Shirley Almer

Death linked to salmonella, family to sue

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After battling a brain tumor for months, with her family hoping to bring her home for the holidays, an East Otter Tail County woman is believed to have succumbed to a totally unexpected attack: salmonella contamination.

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Rural Perham resident Shirley Mae Almer, a 1954 graduate of New York Mills High School, died Dec. 21 in Brainerd. Her death has been linked to salmonella-contaminated peanut butter, and the family is bringing a suit against the company.

Cause of death wasn't entirely certain, but the family received a call Jan. 6 from the Minnesota Department of Health. The family was informed that she had salmonella bacteria in her blood.

"She had been fighting something very dangerous, very deadly, and she had overcome it," said her son, Pat Almer, Perham. "Then, to think she was overcome by something else, it all seems so negligent. It's hard to understand it all."

A Minneapolis law firm has announced that it will be taking action in the death of Almer. She was one of two victims at two separate Brainerd nursing homes whose deaths have been linked to the nationwide salmonella outbreak.

In both cases, "they consumed peanut butter that state health officials have since confirmed was contaminated by the same strain of salmonella bacteria that has sickened at least 425 people in 43 states since mid-September," stated a news release from attorney Fred Pritzker, who is handling the case.

The lawsuit will be brought on behalf of Shirley Almer's heirs, and will target a Georgia-based manufacturer of the peanut butter product.

Almer had been in remission from her cancer, and her stay at the Brainerd Good Samaritan nursing home was intended to be temporary, said her son Pat Almer.

Almer's daughter, Ginger Lorentz, fed her mother peanut butter at the nursing home a couple of weeks before she died, the Wadena Pioneer Journal reported. As far as she knows, that is the last time Almer had peanut butter. Almer was staying at Bethany Good Samaritan Village to recover from a urinary tract infection, Ginger said. She battled lung cancer two years ago and was diagnosed with a brain tumor this summer, Ginger said. Almer was cancer free since October.

"She had been sick for a long time for other reasons, but we were ready to bring her home for the holidays," said Pat Almer. His mother had suffered a seizure in July, and was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. "She had been through a lot as far as fighting her cancer...and it wasn't active at the time. It has been quite a roller coaster."

The federal investigation into the salmonella outbreak is focused on peanut processing plants and distributors who are food suppliers to institutions--such as long term care facilities.

"As the story keeps breaking that more and more people have gotten sick; and all the stories about product recalls; it's pretty amazing that only a few people have died," said Pat Almer.

As of last weekend, Minnesota Department of Health officials stated that 35 Minnesotans had been sickened by exposure to the peanut butter, and 13 of those people had been hospitalized.

Almer was the full owner of Wadena Lanes up until the time of her death, Ginger said. Her mother was a very kind and generous person who was very patriotic and involved with her business. She stayed active even in her retirement, she said.

Shirley Almer is survived by sons, Jeffrey (Becci) Almer of Burnsville, Patrick Almer, and Michael Almer, both of Perham; daughters, Victoria (Pete) Hammes of Oakdale, and Virginia (Kevin) Lorentz of Brainerd; four grandchildren, Isaac, Shelby, and Shanice Lorentz, and Madeline Murphy; and sister, Mary Barden of Phoenix, AZ.

Funeral services were December 27 at Trinity Lutheran Church in New York Mills. She is buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in New York Mills.

Editor's note: Some of the information in the story was provided by the Wadena Pioneer Journal.

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