In late September, Jon Guay and his wife Beth were on their way to celebrate what had been yet another happy day for the family. Pregnant with their second child, the couple and their 21-month-old son, Colton, headed off to the Oxford County Fair to celebrate the wonderful news -- they were due to have a girl in January.
Less than one week after the fair visit, Colton became sick. Diagnosed with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, he began to deteriorate, and despite the relentless efforts of his medical team at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at the Maine Medical Center in Portland, Colton died on Monday.
Colton picked up the bacteria while he was in his stroller and the family walked through the petting zoo at the fair, his father said.
“He was very much a people-person, even at 21 months old, and I think people saw that and it drew them to him,” said Jon Guay in a phone interview. “Everyone holds their children in high regard, but Colton, I think, he was just a little more special in that sense.”
Guay spoke on the phone after a long day of interviews and funeral arrangements. Stating that there were no more tears left, he said he spoke to the Globe to “raise awareness for my son.”
The disease that killed the fair-haired boy, H.U.S., was born from E.coli, a bacteria that is normally found in the intestines of humans and animals.
“We were always very clean with him, he was always very clean. My wife carries a gallon of hand sanitizer,” Guay said. “He’s never been sick in his 20 months of life.”
Guay is confident his son picked up the bacteria at the petting zoo after he spoke with the father of another child who visited the zoo and is now in critical condition with the same illness.
“We compared notes on everything, even on what we ate, it was all different. The kids don’t know each other, we didn’t know them,” said Guay. “But we both went to the petting zoo.”
The Oxford County Fair could not be reached for comment Tuesday. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry also could not be reached.
According to the Mayo Clinic, H.U.S. causes abnormal premature destruction of red blood cells, generally leading to kidney complications. However, according to Guay, the disease attacked Colton’s brain instead.
“It started off as severe diarrhea, then watery, then bloody,” he said. “They kept telling us to give him stuff like pedialyte to keep him hydrated, but he continued to deteriorate.”
The concerned parents took the toddler to Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, where the family resides, and the child was admitted and placed on an IV for two days. But when his condition did not improve, he was sent to Portland, where doctors made the diagnosis.
“He was having seizures to the point of brain damage,” Guay said. “And yesterday [Monday], he had another brain swelling and it stopped brain activity, left him dead.”
According to his father, Colton was a bright young boy. He believed that his son would grow up to be an electrician or a Navy SEAL.
“He loved Lion King, loved putting things together,” Guay said. “He loved police cars and tractors and his dogs, Lady and Bosco.”
Guay, who is a deputy with the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office, recalled one time that he placed the child in his police cruiser, buckled him into his child seat, and went to put something in the back. Then, all on his own, Colton turned on the cruiser’s lights and sounds.
Colton’s grandmother, Lucy Guay, called him the “light of my life,” and said this is “the most awful thing I’ve ever imagined.”
In a touching memorial to Colton on his Facebook, Guay wrote that he and his wife “were with him almost every moment in the hospital” and “got to hold and rock him to sleep.”
He also had some advice for others.
“I ask that they give their children and/or loved ones a great big hug,” Guay wrote.