University of Colorado graduate among the seriously ill in France after botulism outbreak

CU grad Matt Jackson among the seriously ill after botulism outbreak abroad

CU grad Matt Jackson among the seriously ill after botulism outbreak abroad


The parents of Matt Jackson are waiting and worrying for their 41-year-old son, who remains in intensive care at a French hospital after being diagnosed with botulism poisoning. The toxin is produced by various forms of botulinum bacteria and can grow in environments with low oxygen content such as home preserves or canned goods.

Matt Jackson is in the hospital in France.


“It’s like riding a roller coaster,” said his father Tom Jackson.

“But today was a bad day,” Lynne Jackson said.

Matt has now developed pneumonia, which French doctors are trying to treat with three antibiotics.

Matt and his girlfriend of 19 years, Kristy Benner, both University of Colorado graduates who work in the lighting design industry in California, each became ill after eating at a wine bar in Bordeaux, France. They are among as many as 25 people who are believed to have eaten sardines canned and prepared by the restaurant. Matt and Kristy were on a vacation that began at the beginning of September. About five days in, they sought out a destination wine bar before dinner.

“Tchin Tchin had been kind of at the top of our list to visit. And it came highly regarded from several sources that we know and trust,” Benner explained.

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The restaurant operator opened the sardines and some smelled bad, so threw them out. However, others were served to patrons over a period of six days, according to an investigation by French authorities. A woman, a 31-year-old, has died. The restaurant’s operator may now be charged with involuntary manslaughter, which a French prosecutor is investigating.

For some, it took days for symptoms to appear. However, Matt started to experience the symptoms more quickly.

“And then he just became very disoriented and very … it’s hard for him to talk. His mouth was super dry. I thought he was having a stroke,” Benner said.

She had to call an ambulance to take him to the hospital. The doctors were initially confused. Botulism is not common. In Colorado, there are a handful or so of reported illnesses per year. Clostridium botulinum are rod-shaped bacteria that are present in soil and marine sediments around the world. They are anaerobic, meaning they live and grow in low oxygen. When survival conditions are poor, the bacteria form protective spores, which have a hard protective coating. In such a state, they can essentially survive in dormancy for years. The neurotoxin is produced during the bacteria’s growth phase and is among the most toxic substances known, potent in microscopic quantities.

“Many cases of foodborne botulism have occurred after people ate homemade, canned, or fermented foods that were contaminated with the toxin. The foods could have been contaminated if they were not preserved (processed) properly,” states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. .

Initially, there were thoughts that Matt might have Guillain Barre Syndrome. But as time went on and others began to show illness, including Benner, doctors focused on botulism.

“I started feeling pretty bad, like my extremities. And I just felt so tired like I actually thought I might have COVID. It’s just that the swallowing thing was kind of weird. So I didn’t have COVID ,” Benner said.

In France, the anti-toxin is kept by the French military and had to be brought to the hospital. In the United States, doctors go to the CDC to get the anti-toxin, according to Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Safety.

Matt Jackson and Kristy Benner


As the effects of the botulism spread through Matt’s body, he became immobile.

“His whole face is like a frozen face. And it went down his shoulders and his arms and his legs,” his mother said.

He has since regained some movement, but only in limited amounts. The pneumonia is a setback

“All I want to do is just touch him and hug him and hold him,” Lynne Jackson said.

Matt’s brother and sister, both Coloradans, rushed to France to be with him and Kristy. Friends have stepped forward to help and raise money with a social media campaign. The family is not alone in the crisis, but there is no indication of how or when Matt might be able to return to the United States. While Kristy said she felt there was a delay in testing, Matt’s parents say his brother tells them the care has been very good.

“In many ways, it’s been an incredible learning experience for us to show how many friends and loved ones we actually have out there,” said Tom Jackson.

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