Ashley Lionberg told WBBM-TV she believes a cut from a splinter on a battered bench was responsible for the illness that nearly killed her and left her partly paralyzed. She said doctors examined her thoroughly and found no other cuts or scars.
Lionberg developed the first symptom, an aching jaw, a few days after the August trip to the zoo.
"It's terrifying," said Lionberg. "Because when the muscle spasms come on, where I can't breathe, it's like I'm being suffocated."
She said when she called the zoo, also known as the Chicago Zoological Park, in the suburb of Brookfield, Ill., to urge maintenance for benches and other equipment she did not get the response she hoped for.
"My first call ended up with laughter and being hung up on and that really, really upset me," she said.
WBBM sent a crew to the zoo and reports that many benches, picnic tables, railings and other equipment are in bad shape, with rust, splinters and loose bolts and nails.