At first he just had stomach pain—but then things took a turn for the worse.

By Julie Mazziotta
Updated: July 03, 2019
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Family and medical examiners are still searching for answers six months after an Australian man died in “absolute agony” of salmonella — and they believe he may have developed the infection after eating a gecko on a dare.

David Dowell, 34, started complaining of stomach problems the day after a Christmas party on Saturday, Dec. 1, but thought it was just a hangover, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

“Then on Monday, it was coming out both ends and he was really sick and the moment he started throwing up and it was green, that’s when they rang the ambulance,” Hannah, his sister, told the newspaper.

She claims that the paramedics thought he just had a stomach bug and did not want to take him to the hospital, but she insisted. One day later, he was diagnosed with salmonella, a common and curable infection from contaminated food or water, at Mater Hospital.

It was initially suspected that Dowell had gotten salmonella from eating chicken, until one of his friends said he ate a gecko at the party, according to Hannah. She added that Dowell’s partner, Allira Bricknell, shared that information with his doctor, who said, “’That could have been it.’ ”

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However, there are conflicting reports of whether Dowell actually ate a gecko.

“There has been no evidence that he actually ate it because there was: ‘Oh yeah I saw him eat it.’ And then: ‘No, I didn’t see him eat it,’ ” Hannah said. “It was a dare, so he might have intended to eat it and then thrown it away. At the end of the day, we don’t know whether he actually ate the gecko.”

Bricknell concurred, saying she also can’t be sure: “It was a dare but I don’t know if it was a serious one, I was paying attention but not really because it was a Christmas party and the kids were invited,” she told 7NEWS.com.au.

At the hospital, Dowell’s condition was poor, his family said. Hannah says that her brother’s body was swollen, he was throwing up green liquid, his urine was black and he had fluid in his lungs.

“When I went up and saw him, he was just in absolute agony,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

His family says by the time doctors moved him into surgery it was too late.

“We had to ask for pain relief for David … He was put into a coma because they couldn’t control his pain. We never really got to say goodbye to him,” Hannah said. “It was like they didn’t really care. The moment he got moved into the intensive care unit, that’s when they got serious.” He died on Dec. 11, ten days after the Christmas party.

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In a statement to PEOPLE, Mater said that they are sorry for his loss, but cannot comment further.

“Mater offers its deepest condolences to the family of Mr David Dowell. Mr Dowell’s case was referred to the Coroner, who determined Mater had provided appropriate care and no further action was required. Mater is unable to comment further on the case due to patient confidentiality.”

But Bricknell said she does not take issue with Mater’s treatment of Dowell.

“We don’t know 100 percent how he passed but on the actual death certificate, it did say ingestion of a gecko so I’m assuming it was that,” she told 7NEWS.com.au.

What Bricknell — who shares three children with Dowell — does know is that she severely misses him.

“He was a great person, he was the best person I have ever met, he was the best dad to our children,” she said. “He was like a big kid, he was the joker … the life of the party. I don’t think there was anyone who met him who didn’t love the person he was.”

Hannah said that she wants “justice for David” and further investigation into his death.

“You don’t ever think anything like this could ever happen to you and then it does,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Hannah added that she hopes this never happens to another family.

“Look out for the signs and realize how bad salmonella can be, so we can prevent it from happening to someone else,” she said.

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