Lesley, 64, was Dad’s sister and she’d never had kids, so she treated my sister Melissa and I like her own.
Always the life and soul of the party, her hilarious jokes would have us in fits of laughter.
This year, Lesley was getting ready to retire from her job as a disability worker and was counting down the days.
‘I can’t wait, I’m going to do up my house,’ she said excitedly.
One day, we were all at the Chinese as usual, when she told us that she’d started a diet.
‘But you don’t need to lose weight,’ I said.
‘I just want to feel healthy again and I’ve been making these delicious smoothies with pomegranate,’ she explained.
‘I’ve never tried it, what’s it like?’ I asked.
‘Oh it’s so yum! I buy it frozen and just chuck it in the blender,’ she said.
Two weeks later, in April, I was on a hike with my partner Matthew when my cousin Josh phoned.
‘Aunty Lesley’s in hospital,’ he said. ‘They’ve put her in a coma.’
I was shocked. How could this have happened?
Rushing to the hospital, my heart dropped when I saw Lesley in bed. Her skin was yellow and she was hooked up to machines.
‘What’s wrong with her?’ I sobbed to the doctors.
When Lesley hadn’t arrived for a coffee date, her friend rang an ambulance to go and check on her. She was never late or missed anything, so it was out of character for her not to show up.
Inside, paramedics discovered Lesley passed out in bed. Searching the house, one found frozen pomegranate in the freezer. They discovered it was linked to an outbreak of hepatitis A cases – a disease of the liver caused by contaminated food. And after checking Lesley’s bloods, the hospital confirmed this is what she had contracted. There had been news reports about the product being recalled, but Lesley can’t have known.
‘We’re going to do all we can to save her,’ the doctor said.
They started to extract the poisoned blood and pump her body with new blood. After two weeks, she slowly started to wake up, then she responded to us. At first, she only managed simple words like ‘hi’ and ‘bye’. But as the weeks passed, she was able to form sentences and eventually have conversations. Telling her what happened, she was stunned it was caused by pomegranate.
She’s really good tonight, I typed in the family Facebook group.
But just a week later, Lesley deteriorated again. The yellow colour was back and she wasn’t talking.
‘We don’t expect her to make it,’ a doctor said gently.
I started to sob. It didn’t make sense – she’d been fine.
‘I’m afraid her body is shutting down,’ another doctor explained. ‘We’re going to put her on life support.’
Contacting all her relatives and friends, they came to say goodbye. Then, five weeks after she was admitted to hospital, they switched off the life support machine. She was gone.
She was looking forward to her retirement, renovating her house and the next stage of her life. Instead, by simply trying to be healthy, she was taken from us. I’m speaking out because I want people to know about the risks of eating recalled contaminated food. No-one else should have to suffer like she and our family did. We will miss Aunty Lesley every single day.
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