Two fathers who say their toddlers contracted E. coli after touching animals at the Oxford County Fair’s petting zoo last month are sharing their stories about what happened to their sons in the hope that it can help prevent the same thing from happening to another child.

Colton James-Brian Guay of Poland, who was 20 months old, died Monday of complications from hemolytic uremic syndrome, a disease caused by E. coli bacteria that produces dangerous toxins.

Myles Jacob Herschaft, a 17-month-old from Auburn, also has been diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome, and is being treated at Maine Medical Center in Portland, where his condition was upgraded Wednesday evening from critical to fair.

The boys didn’t know each other, but both attended the Oxford County Fair in September and touched animals at its petting zoo. Guay’s father, Jon Guay, and Herschaft’s father, Victor Herschaft, met when the boys were admitted to the hospital. In talking about their sons’ illnesses, they realized the boys had the fair visit in common.

“If Colton’s story can save just one child’s life, then he has done his job,” Guay, a deputy for the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office, said in a telephone interview Wednesday night.

State health officials strongly recommend that people wash their hands or use a sanitizer after touching livestock or the smaller animals that are typically found in petting zoos. Most fairs post signs outside barns and petting zoos urging visitors to disinfect their hands.

Guay said that he and his wife, Bethann, who are expecting another child in February, attended the Oxford County Fair with Colton, who was in a stroller for most of the time.

The boy got out of the stroller and held his dad’s hand as they walked around the petting zoo. When they left, the boy and his parents used a sanitizer to disinfect their hands, Guay said.

“I’ve been going back and forth in my brain what type of animal did he touch and, to be honest, there wasn’t that many,” Guay said. “Unfortunately, we’ve been told that this type of (E. coli) bacteria is strong and anti-bacterial soap, though it helps, is not always fool-proof.” Another factor was Colton’s age, Guay said. Toddlers’ immune systems aren’t as developed as adults’ so they are more vulnerable to infections.

“We are very protective of our son, but as parents you can’t have your child live in a bubble,” Guay said. “The last place on earth we thought would end our son’s life was a fair petting zoo.”

Guay said he has attended county fairs for much of his life and supports their mission of promoting the state’s agricultural heritage and providing families with fun places to visit.

After Colton began to get sick, he was admitted to St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. He was eventually transferred to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center, where he died this week.

Guay said he will miss his son and his energy. Before the fair, the boy had not been sick a day in his life.

“He loved to laugh, to sing and he loved Disney and the ‘Lion King,'” Guay said. “I’ve come to learn that nothing is more precious than the life of your child.”

A public wake for Colton will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Fortin Group funeral home, at 217 Turner St. in Auburn. Guay said his family plans to hold a private service on Saturday.

The family and friends of the Herschaft family started an online fundraising campaign to help the boy’s parents pay medical costs. As of Wednesday evening, they had raised more than $2,000 on GoFundMe.

A family member wrote on the site, “He is fighting a very serious illness called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) which is a condition that results from the abnormal premature destruction of red blood cells. Once the process begins, the damaged red blood cells start to clog the filtering system in the kidneys, which has caused life-threatening kidney failure.”

“Myles is looking at a long hospitalization. His parents, Victor and Kaitlyn Herschaft are by his side 24/7. As you can imagine being away from home, missing work, the daily escalating medical costs are overwhelming for such a young family,” the message says. “We are trying to help in every way we can so his parents won’t be overwhelmed with mounting bills.”

Victor Herschaft could not be reached Wednesday, but he has been posting messages about his son’s condition on Facebook. His most recent post, written Wednesday evening, said Myles was in the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit.

“We are taking it day by day,” Herschaft wrote. “Though his days are long he continues to be the little fighter he always was.”