A Northtowns man died Sunday in Rochester's Strong Memorial Hospital after eating an "angel of death," a deadly mushroom he picked in his back yard.
The man, whose identity has not been released, ate the poisonous mushroom Wednesday evening and eight hours later became violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea.
His family called the Western New York Poison Control Center on Thursday morning and was directed to seek immediate medical treatment.
The mushroom's scientific name is Amanita bisporigera, and it is among the most deadly toxins on earth.
The man, who had picked and eaten wild mushrooms in the past, was initially treated in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Amherst.
"He received several different therapies in the hope something would modify the outcome, but nothing worked," said Dr. Prashant Joshi, medical director of the regional poison control center at Women and Children's Hospital.
As the mushroom's deadly toxins took hold, they attacked and poisoned the man's liver, making a liver transplant his only chance of survival, Joshi said. The man, in his 50s, was transferred to Strong Memorial for the procedure, but died before a donor liver became available.
Ernst E. Both, curator emeritus of mycology at the Buffalo Museum of Science and a longtime consultant to the poison center, was called to help identify the ingested mushroom. Both said that a description over the phone and specimens provided by the victim's family confirmed his worst fears.
"Unfortunately, it was an Amanita bisporigera, a death sentence," Both said. "It's pure white and absolutely beautiful. It just begs you to pick it."
Both said the all-white mushroom, whose ominous nicknames include "angel of death" and "destroying angel," starts off looking like a small egg. As it grows, a traditional mushroom cap and stem shoot up to a height of 3 or 4 inches.
The white mushrooms sprout in wooded areas, near the base of large trees. According to Both, two species of amanitas, equally deadly if ingested, are fairly common in Erie County. Consuming less than two tablespoons of the deceptively delicate-looking mushroom will cause death due to liver and kidney failure.
While several varieties of poisonous wild mushroom can be found throughout the United States, deaths from eating them are rare. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were five mushroom-related fatalities in 2002, and only two in 2003, the most recent year for which fatality statistics are available.
Locally, authorities recall only one death from mushroom poisoning. In November 1999, an Akron woman died after eating Lepiota josserandii mushrooms, or "death parasols," which she used to make soup. The Filipino immigrant mistook the poisonous fungi for a mushroom from her native land.
"Picking mushrooms for eating is not safe unless you're really an expert," Joshi said. "When I give talks about poisons, I tell people the only safe place to pick mushrooms is the supermarket."
Both said that he hopes the local man's death alerts area residents that there are poisonous mushrooms in Western New York, and that they put themselves at risk by harvesting them.
"It is unfortunate that people who insist on eating them don't try to educate themselves better," Both said. "There are many poisonous varieties of wild mushrooms that resemble harmless ones. As this man found out, you don't get a second chance when you eat the wrong one."