Home Health news Haunting final words of Montana mother, 64, who died from eating ‘special roll’ at sushi restaurant: ‘I’m not sure I can go on much longer’

Haunting final words of Montana mother, 64, who died from eating ‘special roll’ at sushi restaurant: ‘I’m not sure I can go on much longer’

by Editor

Less than two weeks after a lunch date at a popular sushi restaurant, Donna Ventura said goodbye to her husband and son from her hospital bed.

The retired financial advisor, 64, suffered complete kidney and liver failure and was put on a ventilator at Bozeman Health hospital where she had fought for her life for 13 days against poisoning from uncooked mushrooms

Scribbling with a red magic marker on pieces of computer paper, Donna told her husband Jon and son Christopher, ‘I’m not sure I can go on much longer,’ and, to her son, ‘I love you, Mr C.’

Donna was one of 51 diners at Dave’s Sushi to have become seriously ill and one of two who died after eating a special roll topped with uncooked morel mushrooms. 

Donna Ventura, 64, pictured here between son Christopher on left and husband Jon on right, died just 13 days after eating raw morels on a special sushi roll in a downtown Bozeman, Montana restaurant

Donna Ventura, 64, pictured here between son Christopher on left and husband Jon on right, died just 13 days after eating raw morels on a special sushi roll in a downtown Bozeman, Montana restaurant

Some of the messages she wrote to Jon and their son included, ‘I’m not sure I can go on much longer,’ ‘How are we going to manage?’, ‘I can’t stand the pain,' and 'I love you.'

Some of the messages she wrote to Jon and their son included, ‘I’m not sure I can go on much longer,’ ‘How are we going to manage?’, ‘I can’t stand the pain,’ and ‘I love you.’ 

Morels are typically considered edible, and all tests for pesticides and other toxins on their surfaces came back negative. 

They did find, though, that the people who got sick ate raw mushrooms, while those who ate cooked mushrooms were fine. 

Toxicity from morels is uncommon, but not unheard of. Over the past 15 years, about 150 reports of mushroom sickness from morels.

Donna was in severe pain, couldn't talk, and couldn't breathe on her own. In final scribbled messages to her husband and son, she said she did not think she could go on for much longer and told them both 'I love you'.

Donna was in severe pain, couldn’t talk, and couldn’t breathe on her own. In final scribbled messages to her husband and son, she said she did not think she could go on for much longer and told them both ‘I love you’. 

In April 2023, Donna and Jon went to Dave’s Sushi in downtown Bozeman for lunch, where Donna ordered a special roll.

A pleasant lunch date spiraled into a waking nightmare when Donna had to be loaded into an ambulance and driven to Bozeman Health, where she went into cardiac arrest.

From April 17 to early April 29, Donna was in the intensive care unit, hooked up to a ventilator because she could not breathe on her own. 

The toxins in the mushrooms had caused her liver and kidneys to fail. 

The mushrooms were found to be true morels which, compared to the ‘false’ variety, tend to have lower levels of the toxin hydrazine, and are poisonous if consumed raw.

Eating foods containing hydrazine can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain can inflame and damage organs. 

The compound causes direct damage to kidney and liver cells, disrupts their ability to clean the blood, and destroys red blood cells, leading to inflammation and failure.

In a new interview with KBZK News in Bozeman, Jon Ventura, Donna’s husband of 34 years, described her final days.

Her whole body hurt, her skin was tight because of the massive fluid buildup in her system, and she could no longer breathe independently of a ventilator.

Dave's Sushi in Bozeman, Montana, served uncooked morel mushrooms on one of its special rolls in April 2023, which sicked a total of 51 people, sent four to the hospital, and killed two

Dave’s Sushi in Bozeman, Montana, served uncooked morel mushrooms on one of its special rolls in April 2023, which sicked a total of 51 people, sent four to the hospital, and killed two

Donna with son Christopher as a boy

Donna with son Christopher as a boy

Jon gave her paper and a red marker to write what she wished she could say.

Some of the messages she wrote to Jon and their son included, ‘I’m not sure I can go on much longer,’ ‘How are we going to manage?’, ‘I can’t stand the pain.’

Jon said: ‘And then the last couple she wrote were to me and our son, where she wrote “I love you” and to our son, “I love you, Mr C.”’

Donna made the decision to decline a feeding tube and died the morning of April 29, before Jon could get to the hospital and say goodbye.

A few months after her death, the state and Gallatin County health departments concluded an investigation which found that between March 28 and April 17, 2023, another 50 people who ate morels at Dave’s Sushi got sick. Four, including Donna, were hospitalized.

Donna was the second of two patrons to die after dining at Dave’s. William Lewis, 74, of Toston, Montana, died just one day after eating there, on April 18.

'TIL DEATH DO US PART: Donna and her husband on their wedding day

‘TIL DEATH DO US PART: Donna and her husband on their wedding day

Jon said: ‘I told my wife on her deathbed that one of my jobs would be to hold those accountable for what they’ve done to her. It worries me greatly about the people who eat at Dave’s Sushi.’

Jon is suing the restaurant on a wrongful death claim, as is the family of Mr Lewis. Dave’s temporarily shut down in April but reopened the following month.

Jon told the Montana Free Press: ‘Frankly, what appalls me is the restaurant puts out statements about how we’re in their thoughts and prayers. Really? That level of hypocrisy is hurtful, painful.’

Since Ms Ventura’s and Mr Lewis’ deaths, and the spate of gastrointestinal illnesses, the local health department has uncovered nearly two dozen other violations at the sushi restaurant, including unsafe temperatures in a sample of raw fish and problems with the restaurant’s dishwashing machine.

At the restaurant, the mushrooms were served uncooked, having been marinated in a cold liquid but not cooked. 

An FDA investigation later learned that other restaurants that had purchased mushrooms from the same distributor had cooked theirs before serving them, and no customers got sick.

According to CDC investigators: ‘On April 8, morels were served partially cooked: a hot boiled sauce was poured over the raw morels, after which they were marinated for 75 minutes.

‘On April 17, the morels were uncooked and cold-marinated before serving.’

Investigators found that people who ate the less cooked mushrooms on April 17 were about nine times more likely to get sick than people who ate the partly cooked ones on April 8.

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