Poisoned Manatee teen, family to return from Bahamas ordeal

jdeleon@bradenton.comJuly 17, 2014 

Austin Goncalves, 15, and his mother.

MANATEE — A second Manatee County teen to survive a near-fatal fish poisoning scare after a trip to the Bahamas is coming home Friday.

Austin Goncalves, his mother, Karen Goncalves, and her boyfriend, and Austin’s friend, Marlin Ellis, all went to the Bahamas for some fun this month but ended up hospitalized with symptoms that included hallucinations, seizures, vomiting and shaking.

Prior to falling ill, the two teens went diving and spear fishing along a coral reef where they harpooned two large fish. The following day they fried and ate one of the fish, a porgy mutton snapper.

Marlin began to feel ill and vomit the following day, followed soon thereafter by Austin, his mother and her boyfriend. “He’s doing much better,” said Austin’s sister, Christina Martin, 25. “He still kind of weak and shaky.”

Doctors at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital have Austin undergoing intensive physical therapy, she added. Austin is expected to be released Friday and a family friend will drive the teen, his mother and her boyfriend back to Manatee County.

On July 3, Marianne Ellis said she received a text message from her son saying none of them could stop throwing up.

Worried, she tried calling them all numerous times with no answer. Finally, around noon July 4, she received a troubling call from Austin’s mom. “Karen, who had been unconscious and doesn’t remember calling me, called and said ‘We’re in the hospital and you need to come,’” Marianne Ellis said.

She and her husband immediately bought two tickets to Nassau and began a frantic drive to Miami for the flight. Austin’s sister also flew to the Bahamas when she learned what had happened.

“My mom was unconscious and couldn’t make medical decisions for my brother,” Martin said.

Marlin’s parents arrived first at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau and realized there was no treatment plan and doctors were clueless as to the cause of the illness. One reason was all four were incoherent when they came in and couldn’t tell doctors anything.

The family charted 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,” Martin said.

In Miami, Marlin was taken to Jackson Memorial where doctors determine they had 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.

The following day the same medical plane that brought Austin to Miami turned around for his mother. Her boyfriend had to fly 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.”

All four are advised not to eat seafood or nuts yet, and avoid chicken and pork because their feed often contains seafood. The experience hasn’t scared Marlin, whose mother said he can’t wait to eat seafood again.

“Both boys really focus on fishing and diving,” Marianne Ellis said. “I don’t think poison will deter them from being around fish.”

The Ellis family owns the Blue Marlin Grill on Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach and will partner with the Drift Inn on a benefit to help defray Austin and his mother’s medical bills, which have already topped $30,000.

The Aug. 2 benefit at the Blue Marlin will feature a silent auction with original art work, poker run, live music and raffle prizes from local businesses.

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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