Family died horror deaths from mushrooms

2012-09-26 00:00

IT WAS meant to be a special dinner of curried mushrooms and rice that brought the Mkhize family together last Tuesday evening.

But they had no idea the meal they were about to enjoy at home near Pinetown was lethal.

By Sunday, five of the family had died, each one succumbing one day after the next to the toxins from the deadly mushrooms they had prepared.

The only survivor was 17-year-old Sphelele Mkhize, whose brother Bheki Mkhize had found the mushrooms on his way home from work.

Where he found the killer fungi, no one will ever know.

Bheki (29) was the last of the group to die on Sunday. His younger sister, Nombulelo (22), perished the day before and their sister, Nozipho (24), the day before her.

The first to die was Xoli Buthelezi (31), Bheki’s girlfriend. She had cooked the meal. Nombulelo’s one-year-old daughter, Emihle Mkhize, died the next day on Thursday.

Sphelele, speaking from the home in Dassenhoek near Mariannhill where his brother’s girlfriend lived, cut a forlorn figure yesterday.

The tragedy has made him the sole carer of a nine-year-old brother. He has no idea what the future holds.

“I’m feeling very sad at the moment.

“I don’t know where Bheki got the mushrooms from. It was the first time he had brought them home.”

On the ground outside the front door, neighbours showed the mushy, decomposed remains of the mushrooms in a plastic packet.

Sphelele shared some of the meal but chose not to eat the mushrooms. It was a decision that saved his life, even though he was hospitalised for a day.

“I was feeling dizzy and vomiting a lot. My stomach was also running.”

The symptoms were the same as his family experienced, except after a glucose drip and some medication, Sphelele walked out of the nearby clinic alive.

His siblings were not so fortunate and along with the diarrhoea, they also began coughing up blood and suffering chronic hallucinations.

Post-mortems have yet to be conducted on any of the remains.

Associate professor of life sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Ashley Nicholas, said their demise would have been an awful ordeal.

“It’s not a pleasant death. They would have huge hallucinogenic trauma. By the third day their kidneys and livers would have started to give in.”

Judging by the symptoms, Nicholas speculated the mushroom was most likely the highly toxic poison cap.

He said worldwide there were 32 mushroom species counted as deadly and another 52 that could bring on severe illness, but not death.

The problem, he added, was that many killer species looked almost identical to edible varieties.

The extended family, who had gathered at a homestead on the other side of Pinetown in KwaDabeka, are waiting for the bodies to be released.

They were too traumatised to speak yesterday.

Local councillor Sibongiseni Mkhize (no relation) and his colleague, councillor Nelly Nyanisa, have promised to help the family with formalities.

Mkhize learned about the deaths on Sunday and described the circumstances as “strange but tragic”.

The reports he received from the family about the symptoms indicated they “were losing their minds”, suggesting they did indeed endure the terrible hallucinogenic episodes described by Nicholas.

They also vomited blood, which was when they finally sought help. It was too late, however.

Nombulelo, who was admitted to Marianhill Hospital, was discharged at one point, even though she was reportedly still very weak. She returned, only to die later.

Nozipho left behind an eight-month-old daughter, Asanda, who yesterday lay sleeping on a relative’s lap.

Said councillor Mkhize: “This is an unexpected event. We have reported the matter to the municipality and to the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs and definitely the government will come on board [with help].”

The Health Department could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mkhize confirmed that no post-mortems had yet been conducted.

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