Drinking too much water killed man, 29

Matthew Ellis in April 2010.
Matthew Ellis in April 2010.

A YOUNG Sheffield man died in hospital more than seven months after suffering devastating brain damage - caused by drinking too much water following a night out with friends.

Matthew Ellis, aged 29, downed ‘pints and pints’ of water before collapsing at his dad’s home and being rushed into intensive care at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital.

His heartbroken family believe an Ecstasy tablet had been slipped into Matthew’s drink without his knowledge while he was out with pals on Boxing Day last year.

The drug caused him to crave massive amounts of water - and the excess liquid he drank caused the salt levels in his body to plummet, bringing on a rare brain condition called extrapontine myelinolysis.

Matthew, who worked as a heating and ventilation engineer, never returned home from hospital after being rushed there when he started fitting and collapsed.

He spent the remaining 32 weeks of his life in hospital, before eventually dying of a chest infection.

Mum Maureen Ellis, 62, from Gleadless, today warned others about the little-known but catastrophic dangers of drinking too much water.

“There’s no health warning - water’s good for you if you have a certain amount,” she said. “But we want to make people aware not to drink that much.

“Matthew went through absolute hell. It’s such a waste of a young life.”

Maureen, a technical support officer at Sheffield Council, said Matthew had been working in Wales before last Christmas, and had taken time off over the holidays ahead of a planned job at Doncaster Prison in January.

He stayed out late drinking with friends on Boxing Day and afterwards went to sleep at his 66-year-old dad Ken’s home in Lowedges.

“The following day he was feeling poorly and rough and started drinking lots of water,” said Maureen. “He was drinking pints and pints - we don’t know exactly how much, but he was drinking it through the day, constantly.

“The next day my eldest son, Andrew, phoned and said Matthew was starting to fit and was nearly falling down the stairs. Then he collapsed in the kitchen.”

Andrew, 35, dialled 999 - and Matthew suffered five seizures in the ambulance on the way to hospital.

“We were told to go straight there because it was serious and life-threatening,” said Maureen. “When we arrived Matthew was on a ventilator in intensive care. He couldn’t do anything himself.

“I was devastated, absolutely devastated. I couldn’t believe it.”

She said a consultant at the Northern General Hospital told her Matthew must have unknowingly been slipped an Ecstasy tablet.

“He never took drugs,” she said. “He liked to go out, but not on a regular basis, and he might go six months without having a drink.”

Maureen thought the worst of Matthew’s illness was over when he woke up after three days in intensive care.

“Matthew was slurring his words - he said, ‘Mum, I’m not going to be disabled am I?’. We thought he would be okay. We didn’t realise until afterwards the damage that was happening in his brain.

“The day after, the hospital phoned to say he’d gone into a coma.”

Extrapontine myelinolysis - caused when the salt concentration in the body is diluted by excess water - had already started to take its toll, stripping away a coating on neurons in the brain, causing irreversible damage.

“It was nobody’s fault, but his sodium levels shot up,” said Maureen. “We don’t know why. The doctors were pumping it back into him but didn’t realise his own salt levels had shot up on their own. That’s what finally finished him off.”

Matthew’s mother gave doctors permission to switch his life support machine off - but he came round again in late January.

“He didn’t know who we were, his brain was gone,” she said.

“It was very distressing. Sometimes he’d be in an agitated state. I spent every day at the hospital until 9pm. It was absolutely horrendous, I was crying my eyes out. It was horrible seeing him suffer.”

Matthew died at 10.30pm on August 4 after one final visit. Hundreds of guests are expected to attend a funeral to celebrate his life on Saturday at City Road Crematorium from 10.45am.