October 10, 2022
A 54-year-old amateur naturalist from Ohio had grown and picked mushrooms in the past, and regularly enjoyed identifying plants. So he did what he thought was the responsible thing: he used a plant identification app on his phone to determine a species of mushroom before consuming it.
When the app matched his photos of the backyard mushrooms with an edible species, Bill Hickman collected them, took them home, and sautéed them with onions, garlic and butter. He ate them with the dinner his wife prepared, and found them to be both delicious, and almost deadly.
Ohio happens to be home to some of the world’s deadliest mushrooms -- and they can look a whole lot like their edible cousins. A recent outbreak of nearly lethal poisonings have experts worried that mobile naturalist apps may be luring citizens into a false sense of security, and they’re warning Ohioans against eating any mushrooms found growing in the wild.
In the middle of that night, Hickman became violently ill with crippling stomach pain, and continuous vomiting and diarrhea. As he would later discover, that time lapse would be the first indicator to doctors that the mushrooms he had eaten were not an edible variety but instead one of the particularly deadly varieties of mushrooms commonly called Destroying Angel or Deathcap mushrooms.
Within 48 hours of his mushroom dinner, Hickman was taken to the University Hospitals main campus in Cleveland, which has developed a reputation as a regional referral center for poisoning from the exact species of mushroom Hickman had eaten. They began preparing an application to the FDA for the emergency use of an investigational antidote – that if administered within 72 hours of ingestion can prevent liver damage and death.
The drug, called Silibinin, is derived from the milk thistle plant and given intravenously. It has been available in Europe for over 30 years, but here in the United States it has yet to be approved by the FDA, so it is not stocked in hospitals or pharmacies.
Fortunately, for Hickman he received quick treatment. He went home after just 4 days after starting the drug, and is expected to make a complete recovery.