From day one a Doctor attending this family suspected 1080 poisoning & advised testing for it. The tests were not done. For our background information to the story, go to this page:
SUSPECTED 1080 POISONING CASES
Pleading with the emergency operator to “hurry up, hurry up, hurry up,” Shibu Kochummen’s last thought before he collapsed was of a dead dog.
The local hunter who supplied the wild boar to him had said when Kochummen picked up the meat that his dog had died.
“I remember falling down and saying, oh, that hunter told me his dog died. I asked him how and he said it was poison or something. That’s why I thought the food we ate made us sick.”
It was Kochummen’s last thought for three weeks.
He would wake from a coma strapped to his bed at Waikato Hospital.
“I asked what the date was,” he said. “I was in shock at that. I can’t feel like 20 days had passed. It felt like a dream.”
His wife felt the same when she awoke.
“I thought I had only been hospital for one day,” Babu said. “I thought I had better get to work and why am I still here?”
At 3.30am on November 16, Kochummen woke in pain. His wife, Subi Babu, was vomiting and shaking. He started suffering the same symptoms.
Kochummen found strength and called on his mother in the guest room of their Putaruru home. “I said, ‘Are you okay?’ ” he said. “She said no and fell down. I went to call the ambulance.”
All three had eaten a wild pork curry for dinner about six hours before. Their two children, aged seven and one, didn’t eat the dish.
Doctors and friends filled them in on the details of their illness and symptoms. It was sobering to hear. The three had to be lashed to their beds as they were prone to thrashing around. At other times they would laugh uncontrollably like children.
While this was happening, doctors were at a loss trying to determine the cause of the illness.
Clinical notes obtained by family and written by doctors at 9am on November 16 said the patients had encephalopathy, a general term that means brain disease, damage, or malfunction. The possible causes were listed as “1080 poisoning, botulism, typhoid encephalopathy.”
Botulism was thought to be the cause of the illness, as the family seemed to respond to treatment for that, but on December 15 a test of the food for the food-borne illness came back negative. Waikato DHB said tests for 1080 also came back negative.
A working diagnosis of food poisoning meant the three were ineligible for ACC cover. They also faced a huge medical bill for Kochummen’s mother, 62-year-old Alekutty Daniel, a foreign national.
“Because we are both not working and the hospital bills, we cannot afford to pay it in our lives,” Babu said.
“That’s why our lawyer is helping us with our ACC.”
Progress has been made. The Waikato DHB wrote a letter to ACC after a request from the family’s lawyer, after it was determined botulism was no longer considered the cause of the illness. A copy of that letter was given to the familiy’s lawyer at an urgent meeting with acting DHB chief executive Derek Wright.
The letter was written by Dr Liz Phillips, who wrote: “It is my clinical opinion (backed by medical evidence) that they ingested an unspecified neurotoxin with the meal …. I believe this would meet the criteria required by ACC for accidental poisoning and entitle them to cover of medical expenses and access to physiotherapy.”
The couple hope the ACC claim will be accepted, but they said what they want more than that is to know what caused them to become so sick so fast.
“We worry about our children and our future as we don’t know what is going to happen to us,” Babu, 33, said.
“We still get symptoms. If we go for a walk, we feel uncomfortable and it is like our body is doing tremors.
“The muscles become painful for three to five hours afterwards. If I am holding a phone, I can only do that for 10 minutes or my hand will start shaking. It happens whenever I hold something. That’s why we want to know. We can have a plan.”
They do not accept the “unspecified neurotoxin” may remain unknown and that Waikato DHB says there is no evidence of any public health threat.
“If it happened to us, it could happen to others,” Kochummen, 35, said. “We need all testing to be done.”
Family friend Joji Varghese visited the family every day they were in hospital.
“I was at my son’s baptism and we noticed they were not there,” he said. “We made some calls and found out they were in Hamilton hospital.”
Varghese and other members of the stricken family’s church arranged a support network to look after the two children. Their two youngsters have since gone to India to be cared for by extended family.
Varghese also wants to testing done.
“I wonder in New Zealand, who has such strict border patrols to stop things coming in, that we can accept there is just an unknown neurotoxin out there,” he said. “That’s scary, really. We need to know what’s out there.”
Kochummen and Babu have been cleared to travel back to India for a month to recover with family but before they depart they wanted to express their thanks to the New Zealanders who rallied around them at a time of crisis.
“The community was amazing,” Babu said. “We are very thankful to everyone who helped us and our family.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Stuff.co.nz