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mushroom poisonings

A Fatal Mistake

At the beginning of 2007, an account of a life-threatening Amanita phalloides poisoning received a flurry of media attention. A family of six living in Aptos, some from Mexico, gathered mushrooms on New Year's Day at Wilder Ranch State Park, north of Santa Cruz.

The grandmother was familiar with picking wild mushrooms in her homeland, and collected a number of varieties to make her family a special meal. Local mushroom experts identified the species consumed by the family as the non-poisonous Russula brevipes, Russula chamaeleontina, Lyophyllum decastes, and a mildly toxic mushroom, Lactarius alnicola. Also collected and eaten was one of the deadly local Amanita species (no uneaten amanitas remained for a definitive ID, but presenting symptoms were indicative of amanita/amatoxin poisoning).

A meal of mushroom tacos was eaten with gusto. Shortly thereafter, all six family members ended up at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz with life-threatening symptoms of amatoxin poisoning. Those that consumed the most mushrooms were the most profoundly ill. Fortunately, the victims fell under the care of Dr. Todd Mitchell, who took the time to search for new and different potentially life-saving treatments. Through his hard work, research and miraculous cutting of red tape, he was able to provide the family with an injectable milk thistle treatment imported from Germany. This treatment has been in common use in Europe for a number of years, but had never before been used in the United States.

Dr. Todd Mitchell
Todd Mitchell, MD © photo by Hugh Smith

Although it was Dr. Mitchell who developed this new protocol, the medicine didn’t arrive from Germany until the family had been transferred to the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, a facility with liver transplant expertise. Four days after ingestion, the victims’ liver enzymes were still dangerously high and rising, and several members were on the transplant list. Following the administration of injectable silibinin, the liver enzyme numbers immediately started to go down, and five of the patients were soon released from the hospital. Sadly, the 83 year-old grandmother died; the other family members survived with no apparent liver damage.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel has given permission to reprint their compelling front page story. Read the complete account of this heroic effort written by Sentinel staff writer Jondi Gumz.