Potting mix nearly kills Wellington man

Ellie and Finlay Morrison say potting mix nearly killed their husband and father.
RHIANNON MCCONNELL/ FAIRFAX NZ

Ellie and Finlay Morrison say potting mix nearly killed their husband and father.

Ellie Morrison wakes up every morning wondering if her husband will live through the day - all because of a bag of garden potting mix. 

Bruce Morrison, 56, is in Wellington Hospital's intensive care unit after contracting legionellosis from working in the family garden before Christmas.

The disease is caused by legionella bacteria, which is found in potting mix and compost and can be inhaled.   

Bruce Morrison faces the loss of his fingers after contracting legionella disease from potting mix.
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Bruce Morrison faces the loss of his fingers after contracting legionella disease from potting mix.

Ellie said she couldn't believe something as simple as planting flowers had done this to her fit, healthy husband.

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"I knew you could get sick, but had no idea it could do this," she said.  

"Nobody understands the seriousness of it - it can kill you." 

The nightmare began on Christmas Eve, when Bruce complained he was feeling sick. A week later, Ellie woke up to find Bruce unconscious beside her. 

He was rushed to hospital and his lungs were found to be filled with fluid. 

The family were told Bruce, a vegetarian and avid cyclist, wouldn't have made it through the night if he was less fit.

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He was flown to Auckland and put in an induced coma for two weeks. 

Ellie and their two sons, Shamus and Finlay, prepared to say goodbye.

Bruce pulled through, but it's been touch and go since.

He has gone into cardiac arrest, during a procedure, had pneumonia twice, had liver and kidney failure and his fingers and his toes are black from septicemia. 

The Morrisons don't know what the future holds, but life will be different.

"If he makes it he may not get his full lung capacity back. He may have to be on dialysis for the rest of his life," Ellie said.

"They may have to cut off the tips of his toes and possibly his fingers, but if that's all he loses, it's a small price."

Ellie, a Government employee, hasn't been able to work since. 

"We are just focusing on day to day. Just praying that he will survive. Until he's off the ventilator and breathing on his own it's just a waiting game."  

Tests are still being done to confirm the origin of the bacteria, but doctors believe it to be from the potting mix the couple used in their garden.

There's now a mask hanging in the Morrison's garden shed.

Ellie has turned her attention to educating people about the importance of wearing a mask and gloves while gardening. 

"I don't want anyone else to suffer like he has."

Bruce is one of 29 confirmed cases of legionellosis nationally this year, and one of eight in the Wellington region

Annette Nesdale, a Regional Public Health medical officer, said people needed to be more aware of the risk of potting mix and compost. 

Nesdale said there had more cases of legionellosis this summer than last, which could be because of the warmer weather. 

She recommended people wear a mask and gloves when using compost or potting mix and wash their hands afterwards.  

LEGIONELLOSIS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW  

* In 2014, 73 people were infected with legionella longbeachae.

* The bacteria is found in soils, mud and compost, and can be contracted by breathing in water droplets. 

* Early symptoms appear between 2 and 14 days and include muscle pain, high fever and chills, headaches, nausia, coughing, abdominal pain and severe exhaustion. 

* Be careful when opening bags of potting mix and compost, and always wear gloves and a mask.

* Avoid stirring up or inhaling dust, and dampen soil before use.

* Read all labels properly, especially all warnings.

 - The Wellingtonian

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