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A 22-year-old woman ended up needing multiple blood transfusions and dialysis when she went swimming off the Welsh coast hours after a “suspected sewage spill” on a bank holiday weekend. Caitlin Edwards developed E. coli which led to haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a rare condition damaging her kidneys, after swimming at Amroth in Pembrokeshire last summer.

Her mum Jayne Etherington said the five-month ordeal was "absolutely horrendous" as she looked on helplessly while her daughter battled the life-threatening condition. Jayne is angry about how untreated sewage was allowed to enter the sea at Wiseman's Bridge, just a few hundred metres further along the coast from Amroth and a popular spot for tourists, on August 24 last year.

It was well-reported at the time that storm sewage had been discharged at four popular Welsh beaches, including Wiseman's Bridge and nearby Saundersfoot, with Welsh Water combined storm overflows (CSOs) held responsible.

Caitlin Edwards with her mum Jayne Etherington
Caitlin Edwards with her mum Jayne Etherington (Image: Jayne Etherington)

“We were allowed to believe it was a CSO spill,” Jayne said. “No-one said: 'This is something more serious.'” In fact the Wiseman's Bridge spill was from a private source and nothing to do with Welsh Water according to a spokesman for the organisation. At the time signs were put up on the beach warning people not to swim and both Pembrokeshire County Council (PCC) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said they were investigating the incident.

Caitlin was unaware of the spill and was oblivious as she and her mum went for a dip. They’d made a pact that they would swim together every day before Caitlin headed back to university for the new term. But after leaving her home in Pembrokeshire and staying in London with her boyfriend Caitlin started to feel very unwell and experiencing severe stomach cramps and diarrhoea. After five days she checked herself into A&E where she was diagnosed with E. coli and HUS. “By the time they phoned me she was in resus,” Jayne said. “She'd gone from a happy, healthy vibrant 22-year-old to looking like she was going to die. We didn’t know she wasn’t. It was horrendous.”

Jayne said Public Health Wales (PHW) did a “full investigation” into everything Caitlin had eaten and concluded that the likeliest cause was untreated sewage – harmful bacteria from contaminated water had passed into her intestine. However PHW told us they were unable to comment on individual cases.

Caitlin Edwards
Caitlin Edwards (Image: Jayne Etherington)

Welsh Water confirmed that the source of that particular spill was not from one of their assets while PCC said it had placed warning signs on the beach "acting on information received regarding a pollution incident from Natural Resources Wales". Nicola Mills, the environment team leader for NRW, said their investigation into the pollution incident at Wiseman's Bridge concluded “the effluent discharge was due to a private discharge point failure”. She added: “The owners of the private discharge point acted immediately to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Our officers have visited the area since and there have been no further concerns witnessed or reported. Around the same time there was also an ongoing CSO discharge therefore it was not possible to pinpoint sole responsibility for the failure of bathing water sampling at Wiseman’s Bridge."

Both Amroth and Wiseman’s Bridge were sampled on the same day: “Results from those tests showed a failure in water quality at Wiseman’s Bridge but not at Amroth,” Ms Mills added. “Every discharge outlet has its own permit limits which are decided on an individual basis by our permitting team.”

The mother and daughter duo are keen sea swimmers
The mother and daughter duo are keen sea swimmers (Image: Jayne Etherington)

It's of little consolation for Jayne and Caitlin. "That’s what can happen and I’m determined that it doesn’t happen to anyone else," Jayne said. She's asking anyone else who may have felt ill after swimming near Wiseman's Bridge that weekend to get in touch. She said there were numerous anecdotal reports that other people had been sick around that time.

Caitlin has since made a full recovery and was able to complete her English and Spanish degree despite doctors advising her she might want to defer her final year. She has spent this summer in Canada running children’s camps and plans to extend her stay into autumn and a winter ski season.

Read full article on Wales

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