UK citizen 21-year-old Hannah Powell ended up blind and lost function of her kidneys after unknowingly drinking vodka laced with methanol while partying in Zante, Greece.
The young student and medical receptionist had eight vodka and orange cocktails along with her two friends on an organised travel agency bar crawl.
Both her friends – Lauren Sheerin, 22, and Lauren Connors, 21 – became violently ill and were hospitalised for days but recovered without suffering permanent damage.
The deadly chemical methanol, which was mixed into the vodka they were drinking, lead to a ravaged condition 36 hours later, leaving Ms Powell on dialysis and with permanent eyesight impairment.
In an emotional interview with The Sun newspaper, Ms Powell, who is now registered as blind, warned other travellers “Don’t end up like me.
“I thought it was going to be the best holiday with my friends. I had no idea I’d drunk anything dodgy. But one day my friends woke me up and it was pitch black. I asked them to open the curtains but they said they were already open and the sun was streaming in,” she told the UK newspaper.
“I just fell to my knees. I was blind. It was devastating.”
Hannah and her two friends paid around £500 (A$870) each for a seven-night break booked with Thomson Travel in Laganas last August. The dodgy Thomson-run bar crawl that cost her her eyesight and overall health, came at around £35 (A$60). The offer included free drinks in four different bars on the fourth day and entry to a foam party at a club called Zeros.
“We were really excited. We were chilling by the pool and the beach, it was a typical holiday,” she said.
“We’re not massive drinkers but we had a few nights on The Strip. We stayed away from drinks that looked dodgy, like the ‘fishbowls’ of cocktails. We were being pretty sensible.
“We were sticking to a drink called ‘juicys’ – it comes in half-pint glasses but it’s just one shot of vodka with lots of orange. We were all drinking the same thing,” she continues.
“I even saw most of the drinks being poured out of bottles that said vodka.
“We ended up at a foam party. I had around eight juicys over the night.
“We finished at about 3.00 am but at no point did I feel sick, woozy, or even drunk before I went to sleep.”
It wasn’t until the afternoon of the following day that Hannah started feeling sick and needed sleep; symptoms typical of methanol poisoning.
“I’d never felt so tired. I went straight back to sleep. At about 4.00 pm they woke me up.
“I said ‘Why are we sitting in the dark? Put the lights on’. They said, ‘What are you on about? The curtains are open’. I got out of bed to put the light on, because I thought they were joking. The room was pitch black to me. I had to feel my way around the bed and my friends said my eyes looked funny, the pupils were black and dilated.
“I’ve got bright blue eyes but they couldn’t see any blue. I was blind. I was freaking out, hysterical.”
She was taken to the local hospital by her friends and the following day, as her condition had not improved, she was transferred to Rio University Hospital in Patras.
Her mum Christine, dad Derek, and her soldier boyfriend Carl Matthews, all flew to Greece and kept a vigil at Hannah’s bedside, sleeping on sunbeds hired from the hospital.
Two weeks later she was flown home.
“My only thought was, ‘Will I ever see again?'” Hannah said.
“Mum didn’t tell me until recently but one of the duty doctors said he thought I’d lost my sight for good. Mum burst into tears but didn’t have the heart to tell me.”
On 20 March consultants confirmed that Hannah was irreversibly sight impaired. That was not the end of her ordeal however.
Her kidneys had been so damaged from the methanol poisoning that she has to have a transplant to avoid spending the rest of her life hooked up to dialysis machines.
Fortunately, her mother is a match for a kidney transplant.
“My mum is my hero. Her transplant might be the lifeline I need for getting some kind of life back,” Hannah said.
Hannah agreed to make her story public in order to warn off other travellers and especially young people like herself, eager to take in the ‘European resort experience’.
Greek police believe criminal gangs based in Albania and Bulgaria supplied the vodka laced with methanol – a highly toxic form of alcohol used to make antifreeze.
As reported by The Sun on Sunday, Thomson Travel has been contacted about the bar crawl but has declined to comment.