Holy water hinders man's miraculous recovery

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The Independent Online
IT JUST goes to show that humans should not try to improve on miracles. A man who jumped from the tenth floor of a block of flats survived against all the odds, writes Liz Hunt.

But just as he was on the point of making a full recovery, his aunt nearly killed him with holy water.

Birmingham Accident Hospital's doctors had had good cause to feel satisfied with their work when the man was brought in after his suicide attempt.

As tomorrow's British Medical Journal reports, they battled valiantly against a daunting list of injuries, including fractures to his skull, ribs, pelvis and a leg. He needed 53 units of blood, and was put on a ventilator. Although complications set in, surgery and antibiotics restored him slowly to health.

Then the 19-year-old's condition deteriorated. He became confused and feverish, suffered shortness of breath. Pneumonia was diagnosed, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria were found to be the culprit. An overwhelming infection now threatened the patient's life.

Ian Greaves, a senior house officer in orthopaedics, and Keith Porter, a consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, were unable to find where the bacteria came from, a serious matter on a major injuries unit.

Then a doctor on his rounds noticed the man's aunt sprinkling the stricken patient liberally with holy water. He stepped in, confiscated the bottle and sent the remaining holy water for microbiological investigation. It was found to contain the bacteria.

Once the sprinklings were halted, the patient made a rapid recovery and was discharged three months after admission.

The doctors say it is the first known case of life-threatening infection transmitted by holy water, this way, and conclude gravely: 'Such transmission is, in fact, more common than realised and may represent a significant source of infection in critically ill patients'.

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