Harleston couple’s warning after drinking antifreeze

A Norfolk couple said they were 'lucky to be alive' after drinking antifreeze from a wrongly labelled liquor bottle that was won at a charity raffle.

Cathy and Richard Spurgin, both 66, were left seriously ill after drinking what they thought was vermouth and ended up on a dialysis machine in hospital.

The husband and wife from Harleston yesterday issued a warning to people to ensure they label hazardous liquids properly following the potentially fatal mix-up.

The retired teachers won the white and blue vermouth labelled bottle at a local raffle on July 11 and a day later decided to drink some of it with lemonade and a slice of lemon.

Mrs Spurgin said she only drank half of the 'horrible' tasting liquid at about 11pm, but thought she was having a stroke at 3am on July 13 when she woke up and collapsed and was violently sick.

Mr Spurgin, who had drunk all of his antifreeze mixer, was also slurring his words and being sick, but realised that their condition had something do to with the bottle of alcohol they had opened and took it to hospital with them.

The couple praised the response of paramedics and staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, who quickly discovered that they had been poisoned with ethylene glycol, or antifreeze as it is more commonly known.

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Mr Spurgin was in hospital for a day and received three hours of dialysis treatment and his wife was in the high dependency unit for three days and was on a dialysis machine for four hours.

The incident was reported to police, but the source of the bottle could not be traced and is being treated as an unfortunate accident. Antifreeze, which is used in car engines, and is sweet to taste, can cause kidney failure and death if ingested.

Mr Spurgin said they had both fully recovered within four weeks and neither of them had suffered any long-term kidney damage.

'It was a very strange incident and we are very grateful that we are still here. It is lucky that we are reasonably fit and do not have kidney disease. It was a pure accident and it was an accident waiting to happen. It was not as if someone deliberately set out to poison us.'

'Someone picked it up from their garage, saw the label and put it in a raffle. It could have passed from raffle to raffle and may have done the rounds for so long that other people did not realise and there may be other bottles in circulation,' he said.

Mrs Spurgin said she was not angry and did not blame anyone for the incident.

'We did not realise how serious it was until we were told by the doctor on our discharge. We are anxious that it might happen to someone else. The important message is that whatever you do, if you put anything in a bottle, make sure the original label is removed and labelled properly,' she said.

A Norfolk Police spokesman added: 'This was an unfortunate accident. The couple affected have been informed and accept this outcome.'