BRADENTON – Fifteen-year-old Bradenton resident Austin Goncalves returned to his Bradenton home Friday afternoon, but continues to suffer the after effects of ciguatera fish poisoning contracted during a Fourth of July vacation in the Bahamas.
Austin, his mother Karen, her boyfriend Allen Smith and 14-year-old Marlin Ellis were stricken with the rare toxic condition after consuming large reef fish, either porgie or mutton snapper, caught while spear fishing and diving.
Ciguatera poisoning produces nausea, vomiting, hallucinations and other neurologic symptoms.
All four were admitted to a Bahamian hospital. The two teens and Ms. Goncalves were later air-lifted to a Miami hospital in order to receive proper medical treatment, while security guards were paid off in order to secure Smith’s release.
Assisted by the U.S. Embassy, Austin’s older sister, Kristy Martin flew to the Bahamas on July 5 to help coordinate her brother and mother’s flights to Miami. She was accompanied by family friend Kennard Chandler.
Chandler’s wife, Beaner, is Karen Goncalves’ best friend, and it was she who drove Austin, Karen and Allen home from Miami.
“Without the two of them, this rescue would have been impossible,” Martin said of the Chandlers’ assistance.
Ellis returned to his parent’s Cortez home the previous week.
Of the four who fell ill, Austin was the sickest. Sunday morning, Martin provided an update on his condition.
“He’s doing good. He gets up out of bed, takes his medicine and goes right back to bed. He’s really lethargic and tired,” she said.
“He can’t really stand up by himself for too long and he’s really weak; and I don’t know if it’s the neurotoxins or the medicine he’s on that’s making him very agitated,” she added.
Ciguatoxins are found in microalgae that grows in certain reefs. Small fish feed on the algae and pass the toxins on to the large fish that prey upon them. When consumed by humans, the odorless, tasteless, heat-resistant toxins are not negated by conventional cooking methods.
When asked about Austin’s long-term prognosis, Martin said, “The doctors weren’t really able to tell us because there’s limited data and research out there on this; some people say six months to a year, others say a lifetime. He’s going to be seeing neurologist, a physical therapist and possibly an occupational therapist.”
In regard to her mom’s condition, Martin said, “She’s doing really well, other than the fact that she gets dizzy and lightheaded and has headaches once in a while,” noting that Smith’s condition was similar.
A community rallies
Martin said the Goncalves family has already accumulated approximately $30,000 in medical and transportation bills, and those costs will climb as Austin’s rehabilitation continues.
Martin said her brother plans to attend the Saturday, Aug. 2, Goncalves family benefit taking place from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Blue Marlin restaurant, at 121 Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach.
Austin is an employee of the restaurant owned by Marlin Ellis’ parents, Adam and Marianne.
When asked about her son’s condition Friday afternoon, Marianne Norman-Ellis said, “Marlin’s doing really well. He talked to Austin last night and Austin’s really excited to be finally getting out of the hospital and coming home.”
Jill Capparelli, assistant manager of the Drift-In, is helping to organize the benefit. She can be contacted at 941-526-6641 by those interested in donating raffle prizes and silent auction items, or assisting in other ways.
A 50/50 raffle will help raise additional funds, as will the boat poker run taking place from 10 a.m. until noon. Cards are $20 each. The poker run will begin at the Blue Marlin and include stops at the Drift-In, the Bridge Tender Inn, Mar Vista and the Swordfish Grill.
The live entertainment will include a performance by Trevor Bystrom and The Tribal Trio.
An online fundraising effort has already been established at http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/florida-teen-diver-down-needs-your-help/204714. As of Sunday afternoon, $5,645 of the $30,000 goal had been raised.
“It’s actually been pretty incredible seeing this whole thing come together. So many people have stepped forward to contribute and help set up the trust fund, getting donations and volunteering their time. It’s really been a community effort,’ Martin said.