Dateline   |  September 27, 2013

Toxic, Part 1

31-year-old Matthew Podolak was a healthy, happy amatuer hockey player, a fisherman, and a family man…  a mysterious illness sends him to the emergency room, and with his life in the balance, his family hopes for answers.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> narrator: it was a mystery from day one. from that time right around the end of the hockey season. it didn't make sense what was happening to matt podalak. matt the outdoorsman, the fisherman, the athlete. he woke up that morning with that pain in his back. and after that night in the hospital a couple of weeks later, nothing made sense of that. god knows there were accusations. oh, yes, plenty of those. and a brother, mark, for whom the story, the mystery became a kind of obsession.

>> it's had quite an affect on me for the past seven years. let's begin in the spring of 2006 . matt was 31 years old. maybe more than ever, he was loving the intense male roughness of amateur hockey. he was number 10 an he was good at it. he even managed to keep all these teeth.

>> he started to take it up when he was in high school . that was really one of his loves.

>> mark podalak was a little older, a little les athletically accomplished than his brother. but he loved him.

>> my dad was a cop, so he sort of put the fear of god into me and my brother growing up. matt told his wife that he was going to -- brooklyn, ohio, it's one of the towns around the edge of cleveland.

>> matt has always wanted to be a police officer since he was little.

>> narrator: his dad was a 39-year-old veteran of the brooklyn pd. he went to work for his uncle, whose phoenix industrial powder coated engine parts for ford and other companies.

>> what did he think of that job of his over there at the fact friday?

>> he was going to take over. my uncle was grooming him to become the boss.

>> narrator: but what matt wanted most of all was a family. so when he met holly , holly mcphee chur.

>> he really loved holly .

>> there are some people who plan out their lives very carefully. those people may have taken issue with matt and holly . when daughter samantha was born, give or take, nine months after they met. the marriage part could come later, they decided.

>> he loved that little girl .

>> narrator: and loved holly . holly loved him. holly told her sister chris the story of how they eventually gotten gauged. it was during a romantic weekend in niagra falls , just before samantha was born. holly was preparing a bubble bath .

>> she couldn't hear because the faucetcucet was running and here's matt down on his knees and she realized, oh, my gosh, you're proposing.

>> that's kind of a romantic story.

>> i thought it was pretty romantic.

>> narrator: after samantha came along, matt and holly went to a friend's wedding.

>> did you almost make it a foresome wedding?

>> holly and matt said we should do a double wedding .

>> but holly knew that her family would not be happy with that, so i think that's what made them not get married.

>> narrator: didn't get married. but something happened in vegas. nine months after that, josh was born.

>> from what holly told me, josh was planned in vegas.

>> narrator: ready or not, matt was now the father of samantha a and a baby boy he nicknamed little man and holly 's daughter from a previous relationship. big changes in a very short time. and by the end of the hockey season, a lot of things started going wrong. josh was still very new then and colicky, that was stress. and with that young family to support, matt had lost money gambling on the internet. he complained of being depressed, so depressed his doctor prescribed anti-depress sant ants. after weeks of this holly insisted he go zee a doctor.

>> he had been complaining of pain and she finally said, you need to go, obviously something's not right. so she basically, you know, had to drag him there.

>> narrator: kidney stones was the diagnosis. the doctor gave matt pills to help dissolve them. four days later, he took a turn for the worse. way worse. holly called her father, matt's father, and 911.

>> i got a call from holly saying something's wrong with matt. so i talked to matt and he says, dad, i don't feel good and i fell off the couch, i'm really dizzy. i said well get him and ambulance.

>> at the hospital things went bad fast.

>> it was nerve-racking was all we kept hearing about is, okay, they're trying to dial in on his kidney issue. well that medication was making his heart go. so they tried to address the heart. and it kept seesawing back and forth.

>> and nobody really knew what it was causing it?

>> no.

>> narrator: matt faded in and out of consciousness. doctors told family members, go home, get some rest. then a few hours later, they called everybody back to the hospital. right away they said. one look at the icu and big brother mark felt his world fall apart.

>> it seemed like he was in a coma. i knew if he made it through, he wouldn't be the same.

>> and everybody felt a particular kind of helplessness, knowing something was killing him, but not knowing, how could they? what it was.

>> how could doctors know what was killing matt? was it a medical mystery or a