Real Life

Deadly meatballs nearly killed my dad!

Terri Williamson of Auckland saw her dad fight for his life after unknowingly eating poisonous meatballs.

I couldn’t take my eyes off my dad as the doctor led me out of the emergency room. “I’m sorry. Your father has taken a turn for the worse. You need to wait outside,” the doctor said.

More doctors raced past me to help and as I peered through the tiny gap in the doorway, I could see them trying to keep my dad alive. I felt so emotional, I could barely stand up.

Then a nurse’s voice brought me back to reality. “Do you think your dad may have wanted to take his own life?” she asked. “We think he may have taken some poison.”

“There’s no way my father would do that to his family,” I told her. And it was true.

oy dad Dean Williamson is a real family man. You only need to see how much he loves his grandkids to know he would never end his life. Yet here she was, telling me the police were on their way to our family house in otara, South Auckland, to search for chemicals Dad might have consumed.

I was confused and angry that people thought he would do this to himself. But seeing my dad lying there, blue and struggling for air, it was obvious something was really wrong. I couldn’t argue when they said he looked like he had been poisoned.

It had all started earlier that night. I was putting my kids Richard (3) and Anneley (1) to bed. The phone rang and I rushed to answer it. It was my mum Mariana. “Terri, come quick. Something is wrong with your dad,” she said. “He is vomiting and can’t move.”

I left the kids with their dad and drove over to oum’s house. When I got there, Dad was lying in bed, covered in vomit. I knew something was really wrong. When Dad turned blue and began struggling to breathe, I called the ambulance.

“Has your father been drinking tonight?” the operator asked. “He has had a few beers, but he is not drunk,” I sobbed. “Please, come quick. I think he is dying.”

When I ran back to the bedroom, Dad’s eyes had rolled to the back of his head. The choking noise he was making made me feel sick.

At oiddlemore Hospital, all I could do was wait. That’s when I was told the doctors thought he had poisoned himself.

Not long after the police finished searching the house, they drove my mum and 13-year-old sister Sarah to the hospital. We were told Dad was probably going to die. For the next half an hour we sat in the waiting room holding each other, praying Dad would pull through.

Thankfully, after an hour of trying, the doctors found an antidote for the poison in Dad’s body and he was transferred to the recovery ward. I was so relieved, but I wondered how he had become so sick.

I thought back to what he had been doing that evening. Dad had had two mates around for a game of cards and they drank five Steinlagers each. But the others weren’t sick, so I knew it wasn’t the beer.

Suddenly, a thought came to me. I had been at his house that morning with my children and had cooked them some meatballs I found in the fridge. After chopping them up, I ate a small piece to check the temperature. “Yuck! They taste really salty,” I said, putting them in the bin. I didn’t think they were off, but I knew the kids wouldn’t like them, so I put the rest of the tray back in the fridge.

“oum, did Dad eat those meatballs for dinner?” I asked, and she nodded. It turns out Dad had eaten one of the large meatballs and covered the salty taste by eating tomato sauce and mash with it. When I told the doctor, he asked me to bring in the meatballs for testing.

Three days later, Dad was discharged and the test results arrived. We were so shocked. The meatballs contained a preservative called sodium nitrite and they had 344 times the permitted level of it – 43,000mg per kilo, when the maximum permitted is 125mg per kilo. They were deadly and I nearly fed them to my children. If they nearly killed a grown man, I cannot bring myself to think what could have happened to my babies.

It was two years until it all came to court and a few weeks ago, the butchery owner pleaded guilty to three charges under the Food Act, relating to preservatives in meat-balls or mince. That’s when we found out the man who had prepared the meatballs couldn’t read English and was confused by the ingredients. The packet he used was clearly marked “poison”, but he never knew. Apparently, he thought he was just seasoning them.

We were furious – but then the news got worse. The court fined the company $45,000 and ordered them to pay Dad only $67 for the cost of his ambulance. I sat with Dad as we watched the news and he was so amazed, all he could do was laugh.

“I was knocking on heaven’s door and the Government gets $45,000. It’s a joke,” he said.

This should not have happened. Those meatballs could have killed the lot of us. *As told to Jonica Bray

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