“It was a dare, so he might have intended to eat it and then thrown it away. At the end of the day, we don’t know whether he actually ate the gecko. David never mentioned it.”

By Ian Horswill


Posted on July 2, 2019

An Australian man died after feeling unwell the day after he was dared to eat a gecko lizard, common in many parts of the nation, as a dare at a party.

Six months later, David Dowell’s family still don’t know exactly what killed him and are searching for answers.

Geckos are a familiar sight in Australia. A number of species are common ‘house geckos’, scuttling across walls and ceilings in pursuit of insects. Most are insect-eaters, but sap and nectar are often included in their diets.

A father of three, Dowell, who would have celebrated his 35th birthday last week, was taken to Mater Hospital Brisbane two days after friends dared him to eat the gecko.

“On (December 3), it was coming out both ends and he was really sick, and the moment he started throwing up and it was green, that’s when they rang the ambulance,” Mr Dowell’s sister Hannah told the Brisbane Times.

“When they got there, they (paramedics) didn’t even want to take him (to hospital). They said he just had gastro and his partner said, ‘No, you’ve got to take him; it’s not just gastro’.”

David Dowell was the father of three children when he fell violently ill.
David Dowell was the father of three children when he fell violently ill. Photo: Facebook / Allira Marie Bricknell

A day into his hospital stay, Dowell was diagnosed with salmonella, an infection which gives you gastroenteritis. The infection is caused by contaminated food, water or your own hands; another person’s hand or a contaminated surface and animal faeces. If infected, you will suffer diarrhoea, stomach cramps and fever for two to seven days, HealthDirect reports.

Dowell began vomiting green bile, his urine was black and his stomach was so badly bloated he looked six months pregnant, his sister said. His lungs also started to fill with fluid. His mother Michelle said fluid leaked from his stomach.

A day after Dowell was admitted to hospital, his partner Allira Bricknell was told by a friend they were “pretty sure” they had seen him eat a gecko at the party.

“(Allira) told the doctor and the doctor said, ‘That could have been it’,” Hannah said. “But there has been no evidence that he actually ate it because there was, ‘Oh yeah I saw him eat it’, and then, ‘No, I didn’t see him eat it’.

“It was a dare, so he might have intended to eat it and then thrown it away. At the end of the day, we don’t know whether he actually ate the gecko. David never mentioned it.”

Asian House Geckos is the most common species of gecko in Australia.
Asian House Geckos is the most common species of gecko in Australia. Photo: Queensland Museum

Michelle Dowell told the Brisbane Times: “His testicles were swollen up to grapefruits, and there was fluid leaking from them, and they (doctors) said that was normal, it was just all of the fluid in his stomach cavity.”

On December 11, less than two weeks after he was dared to eat the gecko, Dowell died in surgery. His family said he “basically rotted from the inside out”. Hannah and her family are still seeking answers, especially relating to the care he received at Mater Hospital Brisbane.

“The surgeon basically said that he needed that (surgery) straight away,” Hannah told the Brisbane Times. “We also asked why they didn’t give him a catheter, and they said they didn’t think of that. We had to ask for pain relief for David … He was put into a coma because they couldn’t control his pain. We never really got to say goodbye to him.

“It was like they didn’t really care. The moment he got moved into the intensive care unit, that’s when they got serious. I want justice for David … or just answers. You don’t ever think anything like this could ever happen to you and then it does.”

David Dowell died after falling ill two days after he was dared to eat a gecko, which are common lizards in Australia.
David Dowell never recovered after falling violently ill two days after being dared to eat a gecko. Photo: Facebook / Allira Marie Bricknell

In a statement, Mater Hospital Brisbane said it was unable to comment on Dowell’s death.

“Mater offers its deepest condolences to the family of Mr David Dowell. Mr Dowell’s case was referred to the coroner, who determined Mater had provided appropriate care and no further action was required. Mater is unable to comment further on the case due to patient confidentiality.”

Dowell’s death draws parallels to the death of Sydney man Sam Ballard, who was dared to eat a slug crossing across the pavement of his home. Ballard died last November, eight years after he contracted rat lungworm. Doctors later determined the slug had infected him with the rat lungworm.

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