How an Alleged Blue Bell Listeria Victim Says the Illness Changed His Life Forever

It started with a brutal headache, and soon David Shockley was unresponsive.

ByABC News
May 21, 2015, 3:22 PM
In this April 10, 2015, file photo, Blue Bell ice cream rests on a grocery store shelf in Lawrence, Kan.
In this April 10, 2015, file photo, Blue Bell ice cream rests on a grocery store shelf in Lawrence, Kan.
AP Photo

— -- David "Phil" Shockley was the valedictorian of his high school. He went on to earn a master's degree and run a nursing home. But at 31 years old, listeria changed his life forever, according to court papers, and he's been living with his parents ever since.

Now, he's suing Blue Bell Creameries, which laid off a third of its staff last week amid a massive reboot. The Brenham, Texas-based company voluntarily recalled all products on April 20, after it was linked to a listeria outbreak that killed three people and sent seven others to the hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The earliest case dated back to 2010, according to the CDC.

Shockley, now 32, is not among the official 10 Blue Bell-linked listeria cases reported by the CDC, but according to a suit he filed against the company, the ice cream products he consumed before his illness were the only ones that could have been tainted with the deadly bacteria.

"He fully understands what happened to him," Eric Hageman, one of his lawyers, told ABC News, noting that his client is "a very smart guy."

"While his whole life has obviously changed, he is truly committed to doing everything he can to get back some semblance of the life he used to have," Hageman added.

According to the suit, Shockley regularly consumed Blue Bell products at work. He was taking drugs that suppressed his immune system because he had ulcerative colitis, which made him more vulnerable, according to the suit.

In October 2013, Shockley called 911 because of a severe headache, but he was diagnosed with a migraine and discharged, according to the suit.

"Several hours later, he lost consciousness," it says.

When people realized he was missing, he was found alive but unresponsive and rushed to the hospital, where he was placed in intensive care, according to the suit. His temperature was 106 to 107 degrees, and he was "in acute respiratory failure, septic shock and suffering from seizure encephalopathy." He spent five days on a respirator and regained consciousness on the sixth day, the lawsuit states.

"To his horror, when he did regain consciousness, he was unable to walk, talk, swallow or move much of his body," the suit says, adding that he spent 18 days in the ICU and another few weeks of rehab.

PHOTO: Listeria Bacteria
Listeria Bacteria

Doctors diagnosed him with listeria meningitis.

But he couldn't go home, the suit says. He had to return to his childhood home in Maryland.

Shockley has "significant coordination difficulties," which affect everything from balance to speech as well as and other neurological problems, Hageman said. According to the suit, his condition is "permanent."

A spokeswoman for Blue Bell said company officials "are aware of the lawsuit that has been filed, and we take all such matters very seriously."

"That said, we hope people will understand that because this situation involves litigation, we are not able to discuss any details of the matter," the spokeswoman added.

"We've always worked to make the very highest quality ice cream," Blue Bell CEO and President Paul Kruse said in a statement on April 24 when the company announced its reboot. "We intend to make a fresh start and that begins with intensive cleaning and enhanced training. This is a paradigm shifting event at Blue Bell and we want to put in place new systems to drive continuous improvement."