NEWPORT — Susan King wasn't feeling well. Her stomach was hurting, so she went to the emergency room at Newport Hospital.
The day before, the Bellevue Avenue resident had done something she's done often. Kind of.
She went to a tree stump in her yard and foraged lion's mane mushrooms to go with her dinner. As she was picking the mushrooms, King said she noticed a type she'd never seen before.
"It was actually my wedding anniversary. My husband was in England. It was a gorgeous day, and I usually eat the lion's mane that grows in the garden on a tree stump," she said. "It was there, but next to it was a beautiful white mushroom that looked gorgeous, and I tasted the corner of it. It tasted OK. Didn't look sinister at all, so I cooked it with garlic, wine, butter and herbs from the garden, and had some Stop & Shop salad."
The meal, she said, was lovely.
She wasn't sure why she was sick
After dinner, King went out with friends and had some drinks. That's when she started to not feel like her normal self.
From there, things got worse.
"That night, I fell to be really, really ill. I had a nice bottle of 2010 French wine and some very strong old cheese, so I wasn't quite sure whether it was the wine, or old cheese or mushroom, but I was really very ill," she said.
Still sick the next morning, King looked up "mushroom poising" on the internet. The information she found said if you think you've eaten a poisonous mushroom, it's important to get to the hospital immediately, because time is of the essence.
"I called my friend up and she took me to Newport Hospital, and by now, I was vomiting all over the place. It was just horrible. Horrible," she said.
The next day, King's friend brought the mushroom to Dr. Eric Wright, who was treating her. He was able to identify it as amanita phalloides, more commonly known as the death cap mushroom, which is one of the most fatal mushrooms a person can eat.
Newport Hospital Dr. Victoria Leytin said fungi are super important to our environment. They're symbiotic with trees and provide a lot of good, but humans have to be extremely careful with the types of mushrooms they eat.
"There are multiple mushroom species that are very significantly toxic and potentially fatal upon ingestion. Luckily this patient was absolutely fine in the end, but she did ingest probably one of the more toxic mushrooms that are out there," the doctor said. "It's actually the most common mushroom that's ingested that's been implicated in the poisoning and deaths of 85% of the cases of mushroom toxicity."
A forager herself, Leytin said people shouldn't just pick mushrooms without knowing what they are picking, but it's possible to forage safely.
"It's super duper important for people to realize that mushrooms can be very toxic, and not to just pick mushrooms and eat them without really having a very, very good idea, and knowing what they're doing," she said.
Symptoms of mushroom poisoning include nausea and vomiting, cramping, sometimes blood in the urine and electrolyte disturbances.
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Leytin said with mushroom toxicity, patients often will have gastrointestinal tract symptoms, but those symptoms will go away and they'll begin to feel better. That's when the liver begins to absorb the toxins and they go into liver failure.
'It's a miracle'
When King found out she'd eaten a death cap mushroom, she asked Wright of all the cases of people who have eaten this type of mushroom, how many people survived?
"He said, basically, very few because once it attacks your liver, you've got to have a liver transplant and then a kidney transplant," she said. "They actually had a bed available at to do a liver transplant, and my girlfriend offered me some of her liver. Who does that for you? Who offers you some of their liver."
After hearing what Wright told her, King said she accepted she was going to die.
"Somebody came over from the church, (and) Dr. Wright said you'd better get your husband over here, and he flew in from England," King said. "But I also had to have my lawyer come in, who drew me a power of attorney, because if something happened (to) me overnight, I wouldn't be able to deal with it, nor would my husband."
Another friend from Newport began researching medications and found one that wasn't available yet through the Food and Drug Administration. The drug was shipped from Philadelphia and administered to King.
"The care and attention was second to none, and when you feel you're dying, you want to be comfortable," she said. "I couldn't eat anything. I couldn't keep anything down, but I was drinking this charcoal drink that old wives in Italy tell you to drink if you've taken toxins. So they have that at the hospital."
After a couple of days taking the medication, King said her liver began to stabilize.
"So I lived," she said.
During her stay at Newport Hospital, King said many of her friends were telling her to go to get treatment in a bigger city, such as Boston, but King said she was confident with the doctors and care she was receiving at the Newport Hospital, and credits the people there for saving her life.
No longer foraging for mushrooms
"It's a miracle. Miracle recovering," she said. "Dr. Wright also explained to me, because I do enjoy ... red wine and champagne, he felt that could have helped because my liver occasionally has stress to deal with. Whereas, if I would have been a teetotaler, the liver would be totally in confusion as to how to deal with things. Because I stress my liver periodically, that could have helped."
King said she will no longer be foraging for mushrooms.
"It's sad. The worst thing is looking at the lion's mane growing on the tree and not being able to eat it," she said. "I did make a dish for some guests the other week with a mushroom sauce, but I had mushrooms from Stop & Shop to be safe."
This Thanksgiving, King said she is grateful Newport Hospital worked so hard to save her life. She celebrated the holiday with friends and was in charge of fixing the vegetables, but made certain not to forage any of them.
She believes if she'd been at a hospital in a bigger city, she's not sure if she would have survived this ordeal, because the medical team might not have been able to spend as much time researching the cure.
Bethany Brunelle-Raja can be reached at email@example.com 575-644-1223 or @bethanyfreuden1 on Twitter, Insta: bethanyfreudenthal, TikTok: becomingmrsraja, Muckrack: https://muckrack.com/bethany-freudenthal
This article originally appeared on Newport Daily News: Newport RI woman survives after eating poisonous death cap mushroom