Australian father-of-three, David Dowell was in “absolute agony” before he died, suffering from a salmonella infection potentially caused by a Christmas party dare involving a gecko.
More than six months on, his family is still searching for answers after hearing conflicting accounts from those who were at the party and going without details from the coroner.
David left behind partner of 15 years Allira and three daughters – Alyssa, Claudia and Sage – as well as four siblings and nieces and nephews, one of whom was born four weeks after his death.
On Saturday, December 1, David went to a Christmas party. The next day he didn’t feel well but thought it was just a hangover. “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 said.
“When they got there, the (paramedics) didn’t even want to take him (to hospital). They said he just had gastro and his partner said: ‘no, you’ve got to take him; it’s not just gastro’.”
On Tuesday, December 4, David was diagnosed at the Mater Hospital with a salmonella infection. Salmonella is a foodborne pathogen, which can also be transmitted from person to person. The bacteria attach to small intestine cells and start multiplying, causing a gut infection, but in severe cases, the bacteria can move into the bloodstream. In most cases, it only causes diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever, but in compromised patients, those with health conditions or the young and old, it can be much more severe.
David’s family thought chicken was the cause of the salmonella. Then on the Sunday, according to Hannah, David’s partner, Allira, was talking to one of his friends and remembered “Oh, David ate a gecko that night I’m pretty sure”. “But there has been no evidence that he actually ate it.
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. David never mentioned it.”
Dr Turner said a wide range of warm- and cold-blooded animals carried salmonella, including turtles, snakes, frogs and geckos, which have the bacteria in their gut. “It’s possible that if the gecko was eaten, as it was being digested, the salmonella was released, but I have never heard of anything like this before,” he said. “It just goes to show that things as innocent as geckos can carry disease bacteria.”
His symptoms were particularly confronting. Hannah said he was very bloated, resembling someone six months pregnant. His urine was black, his vomit was green and after a few days he had fluid on his lungs.
“His testicles were swollen up to grapefruits and there was fluid leaking from them and they [doctors] said that was normal, it was just all of the fluid in his stomach cavity,” she said.
David’s family said they hoped another family would not have to go through what they had. “Look out for the signs and realise how bad salmonella can be, so we can prevent it from happening to someone else,” Hannah said