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Beware of the beefsteak

Cheboygan family recalls the life-threatening trauma caused by eating poisonous mushroom


Tribune Staff Writer

CHEBOYGAN -- Rosalie Schaefer of Cheboygan learned the hard way that beefsteak mushrooms can be fatal. Rosalie reports that not a single mushroom is allowed in the house anymore, not even canned or mushroom soup.

"I will never eat another mushroom," Rosalie states emphatically. "People should know you could die from eating mushrooms."

Rosalie said she remembers little of the ordeal until waking up in the intensive care unit at the University of Michigan Pediatric Center in Ann Arbor. She was 8 years old at the time.

In May 2002, friends gave the Schaefer family some beefsteak mushrooms. Cheryl Schaefer, Rosalie's mother, cooked the mushrooms for dinner a couple of times.

"I remember that Rosalie ate quite a few and really liked them," Cheryl Schaefer said. "Maybe it affected her because she had so much and was so small."

According to Schaefer, Rosalie's face began turning yellow and she complained of an upset stomach. Rosalie was rushed to the doctor after becoming extremely sick with nausea. She was then sent to the emergency room at Cheboygan Memorial Hospital where they looked to her food intake for answers. The mushrooms seemed to be the only new introduction to her diet.

"Rosalie became totally out of it and very combative at the hospital," stated Schaefer. "They detected ammonia levels in her brain that started to affect her entire system causing the liver to begin shutting down. They said it could affect her brain causing failure to regulate other body functions like breathing. It was a matter of wait and see."

A specialist was called and blood work was done to determine liver function. Liver failure was the diagnosis, so the Grand Rapids Poison Control Center was called for treatment information.

"They didn't treat it at first because this was really new to them here," explained Schaefer. "They knew people had died from this before so they referred us to poison control."

North Flight of Munson Medical Center flew Rosalie to Ann Arbor for continued treatment. It was determined that Rosalie must be transferred, but the treatment method was still undetermined.

"The medevac pilot was supposed to be on vacation, but it hadn't worked out," she continued. "So he just happened to be available. We had a hard time before that finding someone to fly us out."

Schaefer continued to explain how the team of doctors proceeded to treat the symptoms as they appeared because there was no know cure.

"We were informed of what could happen," she said. "We were just kind of waiting and she was going downhill. It was really scary."

The doctors collaborated and decided to administer a diuretic medication to cause the stomach to absorb the poison and flush it through her system.

"This took what seemed like forever," she noted. "At the same time they were preparing Rosalie for a liver transplant right up until they knew the liver was functioning. They did every test needed in case a transplant was necessary."

Schaefer reported that Rosalie had to be kept in a quiet, dark room to minimize the combative behavior.

"You couldn't touch her to soothe her," she said. "It would just set her off instead."

Schaefer described a total turn-around for Rosalie after the medication began to affect her system, causing a first bout of diarrhea.

"She is a miracle child," she expressed. "Nobody's going to say miracles don't happen because we've seen it. We had a prayer chain of people all over the country praying for her."

Rosalie explained that she had many family visitors and enjoyed the light-hearted nature of the hospital personnel. She even made a new friend in her roommate.

Upon returning home, Rosalie, 9, and her sister Monica, 11, emptied the cupboards and cellar of anything containing mushrooms.

Rosalie professes that she will never get over this experience and will never eat another mushroom.

Toxicologist John Trestrail of DeVos Children's Hospital Regional Poison Center reports that beefsteak mushrooms should never be eaten because it contains a toxin that is volatile.

Symptoms that may occur are diarrhea, vomiting, kidney or liver failure and being sweaty. The onset of symptoms may be one-half hour to 12 days, as reported by the poison center.

For more information on mushrooms and mushroom hunting, call the MSU Extension office for a brochure at 627-8815 or visit www.sph.umich.edu/~kwcee/mmhc/> for Michigan Mushroom Hunters' Club.

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