An American couple on holiday in France were among the 15 victims of the recent botulism outbreak at a Bordeaux wine bar - with the man left unable to speak or see, according to French media reports.
Matthew Jackson and Kristy Benner, 41 and 40, architects from Los Angeles, were visiting Bordeaux for three days on a vineyard sightseeing tour when they both ate sardines at Tchin Tchin Wine Bar in the city centre after reading good reports about it online.
The sardines were tinned by the bar owner and have been found as the source of the disease.
Fifteen clients contracted botulism between September 4 and 10, many of them tourists from the UK, Ireland, Germany, or Spain. One person, a Greek woman living in Ile-de-France, later died. Three other people are still in the reanimation ward, including Mr Jackson.
The bar owner says he is devastated and claims he followed the correct canning procedures.
Mr Jackson had to be hospitalised one day after eating the sardines, on September 5, when he became dizzy, tired, and unable to speak.
It took doctors six days to diagnose botulism after they heard about the other cases from the same bar. Anti-toxins were immediately flown in by the army, which manages the supply across France.
A long road ahead
“He was admitted to intensive care, and then the reanimation ward,” his wife Kristy told Le Parisien. “He was writing ‘breathe’ with his finger because he couldn’t do it anymore. He could barely open his eyes.”
Mr Jackson is now stable, three weeks later, but is still breathing through a tube. He cannot see, walk or speak and is communicating through writing. It is still unclear if he will be able to make a complete recovery.
Mrs Benner also fell ill on September 7 but did not need hospitalisation.
“I could barely feel my fingers, I had a dry mouth and it was very hard to swallow, so I had to eat baby food for five days,” she said. “At first I thought it was stress and anxiety, but it was in fact botulism.”
Friends of the couple have opened a ‘GoFundMe’, asking for donations to support them through their ordeal. The website says that funds will go towards ‘residual medical expenses, living expenses for their stay in France, and rehabilitation services for Matt once those become apparent.’
As of September 26, they had gathered $82,000. Mr Jackson’s siblings have joined him in France, and more family is on its way to help support the couple.
“There is a long road ahead until he is healthy again,” Mrs Benner said. “I hope he can be transferred to Los Angeles but he is in good hands here. I hope that he gets to walk again.”