Tami Mackey is convinced she was sickened by what state officials have confirmed were unhealthy levels of dangerous bacteria.
Tamara "Tami" Mackey hadn’t been swimming at Turkeyfoot Lake in New Franklin for many years – more than she cares to admit.
But four days in a row beginning late last week, the Massillon woman made the 20-minute drive to the Portage Lakes State Park beach for some sun and a swim.
By Monday, though, she was regretting her decision.
Mackey is convinced she was sickened by exposure to what state officials have confirmed were unhealthy levels of dangerous bacteria in the lake — and possibly something else.
Mackey said she began to experience a burning sensation while at the lake with a friend. Her friend was the first to notice the burn.
“She went under the water and was sitting in it for about two to three minutes,” Mackey said. “She said, ‘Tami,’ my lips are on fire.’”
Mackey said she and her friend continued to swim, but when they prepared to leave a little before 5 p.m., Mackey developed the same symptoms.
“We’re packing up our stuff and my stomach, my breasts, I’m on fire,” Mackey said. “About 10 minutes up the road, I’m sitting at a light and I feel like I have 500 bees stinging me. We get (farther up) the road and it’s like 1,000 bees stinging me.”
Mackey stopped to check herself and found several red marks about the size of a silver dollar on her stomach and at the top and bottom of her breasts. On Tuesday morning, the redness was worse and the spots had expanded.
Her friend called and she had become sick.
“She said, “Tami, I am so sick. My body hurts. It’s almost like I have the flu,’” Mackey said. Mackey’s daughter, who joined her swimming once at the lake, was sick with the same symptoms.
A few minutes later, her friend contacted her again. Someone had posted a photo on social media of advisory signs at Turkeyfoot Lake warning of high bacterial counts.
It had to be the lake, Mackey thought.
What’s worse, she said, the signs hadn’t been posted the days she went swimming.
Michael Studeny, who runs the state park that houses the lake, begs to differ with Mackey's version of events.
In an interview Friday, Studeny said park staff posted signs immediately following a test showing abnormally high counts of E.coli in the swimming waters of Turkeyfoot Lake. Results from the July 17 test showed 686 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters in the waters – well above the state maximum of 235 cfu/ml. When the results came on July 19, Studeny said five signs were posted and were not removed until further testing this week showed E.coli counts below the state threshold.
“The signs were posted by our maintenance coordinator on the 19th through Tuesday the 30th,” Studeny said. “We removed them ourselves on the 30th; the signs hadn’t been touched since then.”
Studeny said officers at the beach observed the signs during the time period Mackey says they weren’t posted.
Eric Heis, a spokesman for the Columbus office of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the agency did report an abnormally high E.coli bacterial count in its July 17 Turkeyfoot Lake sample.
“As of July 20, there is a contamination warning for high bacterial counts,” Heis said.
The state considers 235 colony-forming units per 100 ml to be the maximum for safe human exposure. The count on the July 17 was 686 cfu/ml.
Heis said advisory signs are placed at a beach when high bacterial counts are found, but the beaches aren't closed.
“We post a warning as soon as we get those results back,” he said.
But Mackey is adamant that no signs were in place all four days she went swimming. That’s important to her, because she has a suppressed immune system and has had a knee replacement.
After visits to the doctor, Mackey was diagnosed with a bacterial-fungal infection that she’s sure she contracted while swimming at Turkeyfoot.
“Why was the beach not closed, and why was there no signs up from the 20th to the 30th?” Mackley asked.
She said if she had been aware of the danger, she would have stayed out of the water.
Signs did go up at some point – Mackey believes they were placed on Tuesday morning and then taken down again after the latest test for E.coli, which came in a 22 cfu/ml, well below the state maximum.
Tonia Burford, environmental health director with Summit County Public Health, said her agency conducts water testing for county sites, but not state waters. She said she hasn’t heard reports of illness from any swimming areas, but encouraged individuals to contact the agency if they have questions.
Mackey is certain that swimming in Turkeyfoot Lake is the source of her infection and the illness of her daughter and friend. She took a water sample from the lake and plans to have it tested. She’s sure algae toxins are in the waters.
“You cannot tell me that they’re testing correctly,” she said. “There is no way.”