Death Angels lurk


Wild ’shroom pickers be warned: A killer is sprouting on the Central Coast. An Arroyo Grande man learned that lesson the hard way, but thanks to the quick thinking of a local doctor and the help of an obscure treatment, he’s recovering after ingesting one of the world’s deadliest mushrooms.

On March 3, Lee Sorenson, 76, casually picked a wild mushroom while working on his property—as he had done for decades. Unbeknownst to him, he nibbled on a “delicious” white anamita phalloides, commonly known as the Death Angel.

After suffering intense stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, Sorenson went to Arroyo Grande Community Hospital.

Dr. Tammie Arnold determined the cause of the distress and knew Sorenson was in trouble. Without treatment, the mushroom’s toxicity causes a buildup of bile in the gall bladder and liver, eventually requiring a transplant. Death could result within days.

Lacking a clear antidote, Arnold searched the Internet and found a treatment still in its trial stages in the United States. With help from a Santa Cruz-based physician currently researching the treatment—an extract from milk thistle called silibinin—Arnold was able to get a batch shipped from the East Coast. Within hours of receiving the treatment, Sorenson’s condition began to improve, Arnold told New Times.

“Fortunately, I had the Angel of Life at that hospital,” Sorenson said. “Dr. Arnold really grabbed this thing by the horns. I got lots of strength from her attitude.”

Sorenson is only the sixth person in the United States to receive the clinical treatment.

Though the mushrooms are more common in Europe, they grow abundantly in the United States after heavy rainfall. Last year, one such fungus claimed the life of a man in Santa Barbara.

Asked if his ’shroom picking days are over, Sorenson chuckled: “I think that one goes without saying.”

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