West Coast gardener in intensive care with Legionnaires’ disease

A West Coast man is “fighting for his life” in intensive care after contracting Legionnaires’ disease from potting mix.

Matt Ewen, 55, was flown to Christchurch Hospital on November 1 when he became critically ill a week after gardening at his home in Hokitika.

His wife, Rachel Gibson, said she wanted to warn people about the dangers of potting mix.

Legionnaires’ disease, also known as legionellosis, is a type of pneumonia caused by legionella bacteria, which is commonly found living in potting mix, soils and compost.

The couple had bought trailer loads of mix from the garden centre after moving from Greymouth into their new home in Hokitika.

“He was building me a beautiful potager​ vege garden for my birthday. We were both in the garden doing it together,” Gibson said.

Ewen was shovelling the mix from the trailer into a wheelbarrow while Gibson spread it around and planted vegetables.

“The doctors have said if it was wet it wouldn’t have flown up into the air as much and we probably wouldn’t be here [in hospital]. I think we were a bit ignorant how dangerous it is.”

Gibson said she was grateful for the excellent care her husband received in both Grey Base and Christchurch hospitals.

“When we were flown over on Friday they didn’t think he was going to make it. He is seriously ill. It is affecting his heart, his lungs, his liver. If he wasn’t such a strong healthy person he would be dead. It’s heartbreaking to see him in there fighting for his life.”

Gibson said she had heard about Legionnaires’ but thought the danger came only from potting mix in bags.

She hoped speaking publicly about her husband’s illness would save another family from going through the same thing they were.

“What I really want to happen is for all garden centres to give out warnings and to give out masks, build it into the price. I don’t blame the garden centre at all but there should be warnings.”

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