FLORIDA, United States, Thursday July 24, 2014 – Vacationing teenagers Austin Gonsalves and Marlin Ellis were having a great time in the Bahamas until they went diving and reef fishing and speared two large fish. Next day they cooked and ate one of the fish, a porgy mutton snapper, which they shared with Austin’s mother Karen and her boyfriend.
The Caribbean dream holiday turned into a nightmare the following day when Marlin began to feel ill and vomit, closely followed by Austin, his mother and her boyfriend.
Within hours the four were hospitalised and fighting to survive a deadly bout of fish poisoning, with symptoms that included hallucinations, seizures, vomiting and shaking.
Marlin, although seriously ill, had the presence of mind to text his mother Marianne back home, informing her that none of them could stop throwing up.
Marianne Ellis went on to try calling them all numerous times, but got no reply. She finally received a troubling call from Austin’s mother Karen, who had been unconscious, telling her “We’re in the hospital and you need to come.”
Marianne and her husband immediately flew to Nassau, as did Austin’s sister, 25-year-old Christina Martin.
“My mom was unconscious and couldn’t make medical decisions for my brother,” Martin told the Bradenton Herald.
Marlin’s parents arrived first at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau and discovered that doctors were at a loss as to the cause of the illness, largely because all four were incoherent when they came in and could tell doctors nothing.
They chartered a medical plane, but could only take their son because they had to be related.
“It was such a nightmare getting everyone out of there,” Christina Martin commentated
In Miami, Marlin was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital where he was diagnosed with a rare food-borne illness called ciguatera, which comes from eating certain reef fish contaminated with toxins. Doctors administered the diuretic Mannitol, a drug which reduces brain swelling, and fluids.
Meanwhile, Martin was still trying to get her family treatment in the Bahamas.
“We tried to get the doctors in the Bahamas to communicate with the doctors in Miami but they refused and refused to give my brother the same treatment,” Martin said.
Next day a medical plane took Austin to Miami and turned around to collect his mother. Her friend returned home on a commercial flight.
Austin’s condition was more severe than the others, causing seizures and requiring life support while he was in a coma. His sister said she stood by terrified.
“It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do,” Martin said. “It’s mind-blowing that you could eat one piece of fish and it could make you so sick.”
Meanwhile, the Ellis family, who own the Blue Marlin Grill in Bradenton Beach are partnering with another local business on a benefit to help defray Austin and his mother’s medical bills, which have already topped US$30,000.