'He can't see or speak': American man remains in Bordeaux hospital after sardine poisoning

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
'He can't see or speak': American man remains in Bordeaux hospital after sardine poisoning
The Place de la Bourse, a square in downtown Bordeaux, south-western France (Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

American tourist Matthew Jackson remains in hospital in Bordeaux where he is still unable to see or speak after being infected by deadly botulism bacteria after a trip to one the city's famous wine bars.


Wine tastings, visits to the Vouvray vineyards and a trip to Ile-de-Ré had been on the agenda for Matthew Jackson and Kristy Benner who were visiting south-western France from California recently.

But after just a couple of days, Kristy and Matthew would become infected with botulism poisoning after a trip to a wine bar, leading to Matthew spending over two weeks hospitalised in Bordeaux.

The American remains there in a serious condition.

"We don't know when we'll be able to go home," Kristy told Le Parisien newspaper in an interview

"He cannot see or speak. To communicate, he writes on a whiteboard. A few days ago, I was able to read 'I'm in good hands'. I hope he'll be able to walk again. He could be transferred to Los Angeles (USA), but he has been looked after well here," she said.

Botulism is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. These toxins attack the nervous system (nerves, brain and spinal cord) and cause paralysis and muscle weakness.


The infection took place at the Tchin Tchin natural wine bar, likely from poorly preserved sardines served by the owner. In the days to follow, the rare illness led to one death - Marie G, a 32-year-old woman living in the Paris region. A source close to the investigation told BFMTV that 11 of the 15 victims had been hospitalised, with six requiring intensive care. 

While the conditions of others have begun to improve, 41-year-old American Matthew was among three people to remain in the intensive care unit at the Bordeaux University Hospital. 

Kristy explained that the couple visited the wine bar on Monday, September 4th - just two days after their arrival.

"Unfortunately, we decided to go there," she told Le Parisien.

She said that Tchin Tchin had been on the top of their list to visit after being recommended by several others.

"We got there around 6pm, and immediately we though the place was super cute. We tasted several wines and enjoyed charcuterie and sardines as an aperitif. The owner was really nice. We stayed for about an hour and then we went to another restaurant for dinner," Kristy explained to Le Parisien. 


The sardines, which are believed to have been the cause of the botulism outbreak, did not have a strange taste according to Kristy.

"I only had a couple, maybe one or two, and Matthew had two. They tasted normal," she told Le Parisien.

But the next day, when the couple had made their way to Saint Émilion for a vineyard tour, Matthew started to feel unwell. Kristy told Le Parisien that at the time she thought he may have been tired, or perhaps he was having some residual symptoms after a shingles infection from a few months prior. 

"We were cycling through the vineyards when he started seeing double and feeling dizzy. He couldn't operate the bicycle anymore, and the tour organisers had to come pick us up in the van. Once we got in the van, he threw up," she told Le Parisien.

The couple returned to their AirBnB and Matthew showered and took a nap. Meanwhile, Kristy said she went out for a walk, but once she returned Matthew's condition had worsened. 

"His mouth was very dry, his tongue was numb and he couldn't swallow. I panicked and thought he was having a stroke. I immediately called 112 (the emergency number in France) and I went out into the street to get help because I don't speak French," Kristy told Le Parisien.

Matthew was then transferred to Saint-André hospital, where they began to run tests. Doctors did not immediately suspect botulism, which is extremely rare. Over the next two days, Matthew would be admitted into intensive care and intubated. 

Eventually, doctors told Kristy it was botulism, "but the test results took five days," she told the French daily.


By September 7th, three days after eating at the Tchin Tchin wine bar, Kristy too fell ill with the disease. 

"My tongue was dry, I could hardly feel my fingertips, and I had difficulty swallowing but I wasn't hospitalised," she told Le Parisien. 

For several days, she ate baby food and three days after feeling symptoms, doctors confirmed Kristy had also contracted botulism poisoning. Shortly after, the couple were both given an anti-toxin.

As of late September, local authorities had opened an investigation into in manslaughter, unintentional injury, the marketing of foodstuffs harmful to health and the sale of tainted or toxic foodstuffs.

The family Marie G have also filed charges against the owner of the wine bar, who had handled the sardine preservation himself.

Local newspaper Sud-Ouest quoted the restaurant owner as saying that he had thrown out some of the jars containing sardines because of a "strong smell" emanating from the containers when he opened them.

But others "appeared in good condition and were served up to customers", he had said.

As for Kristy, she told Le Parisien that she did not want to speak on the subject of pressing legal charges against the restaurant owner, adding that she is "obviously very angry with him."

In the aftermath, family and friends of the couple have helped to raise money with a social media campaign, CBS News reported.

"The road to recovery will be a long one," she told Le Parisien.


Comments (1)

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Matt H 2023/09/26 18:53
The lede in the email ("they were infected with botulism after visiting a natural wine bar") was misleading, making it sound like they were poisoned by the wine. Mental note to get my sardines from a proper sardine cannery and avoid conserves fait maison.

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