Blog: “I had 14 days to live”

8 February 2019
Matt Whitby.

How a popular weight-loss supplement almost cost Matt Whitby his life.

Overweight and looking for a quick fix, Matt Whitby took a protein shake with green tea extract in a bid to help fast-track his weight loss.

Four or five protein shakes over a two-to-three week period was all it took to change the Western Australian’s life forever.

After taking the protein shakes for the first time he started to get “weird side effects” but the father-of-two ignored them as he thought he “needed to build up a tolerance to it”.

“I had fevers. I felt real weak, I was napping during the day … I couldn’t even stay awake a whole day and do a full shift of work at the time,” he says.

“I let it go for a couple of weeks thinking that it would maybe just pass … but it didn’t go away, it got worse.”

Then his eyes, skin and fingernails started turning yellow.

Weaker, with severe fatigue and jaundice, on Christmas Day in 2014 he decided to go to the hospital. “They pretty much knew within five minutes that it was liver failure,” Whitby says.

Months of blood tests, biopsies, and dialysis followed, but failed to repair the damage.

“That’s when a doctor came in and said I had 14 days to live - I needed a liver straight away,” Whitby says.

“I was just shocked. It’s one of those things that you don’t expect to hear, you don’t have time to process it.”

He was immediately placed on a list for a donor organ and, as luck would have it, one was found the next day – the only problem was there was a risk that it had Hepatitis B.

“At the time that didn’t matter,” he says, “I needed a liver because 14 days is not very long, I couldn’t afford to reject an organ.”

While he has since been cleared of having Hepatitis B, Whitby, who now has a green ribbon tattoo on his neck to promote organ donation, is still reeling from the ordeal.

Unable to work for 18 months, he must now take medication morning and night and “will have to for the rest of my life”.

Before taking the protein shake, Whitby says he researched the product online and read the reviews. “I thought it was OK to take,” he says, shaking his head. “It was an Australian-based company, I felt comfortable with the reviews; I didn’t see anything negative at the time about the product, at the time it was something that was working for everyone.”

It wasn’t until two weeks after he stopped taking the shakes that his skin started turning yellow “so I didn’t think there was anything to do with the shakes at the time”.

Months later, and after more research, he found 17 other cases of liver damage linked to protein shakes with green tea extract.

“The doctors didn’t really believe it,” he says. “[But] biopsies [of his liver] showed green tea extract was still in my liver which should have been processed within days of consuming the shake.”

Doctors believe the substance is what most likely caused his liver to fail, he says.

Whitby, who is married with two young daughters, cringes when he sees people buying supplements now and warned others of the dangers of supplements.

“I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve gone through,” he says.

He urges people to do extensive research and seek medical advice before taking anything.

“I want to help people by spreading the message and hope to help someone else making a better choice instead of just taking it straight off the shelf and taking it online like I did.”

* ASADA does not have the legal authority to name the shake.