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My Survival of Living with a Parasite (or 2, or 3…)

“YOU SHOULDN’T BE ALIVE… I DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW YOU HAVE SURVIVED THIS LONG WITHOUT MEDICAL ATTENTION?!?”  These were the words that came out of the doctor’s mouth as I just sat in her office hearing the results of my tests.  Hearing those words had a great impact for the way I live life, and how I approach traveling to other countries.  Because of my research, I get asked all the time if I ever had parasites.  I smile and laugh, and start counting the parasitic infections on my hand that I have had, starting with the first major one…

After living in Belfast, Northern Ireland for almost 2 years, I felt I needed to re connect to my Mexican roots.  So after being the US for only 2 days after my return, I headed to Mexico for a month.  My first couple of days were full of excitement, sight-seeing, and LOTS OF FOOD!!!!  Oh how I missed Mexican food!  But that came to an end within the first week.  I woke up one night thinking someone was stabbing me in the stomach… the pain was excruciating!!!  I drank water, took Ibprofen, but nothing.  The pain was just getting worse.  I crawled on the floor to my phone on the other side of the room to call my dad (he’s a doctor).  By the time he answered, I was crying in pain telling him my symptoms.  I didn’t want to call an ambulance or go to the hospital if this was something that could possibly passed.  After a rough night and day, the pain went away.  Didn’t have bathroom problems, so didn’t think much of it.  For the rest of the month I was ok- but I started to notice I was starting to get bloated- I was gaining weight really easily.  “Parasites make you lose weight, so I can’t have parasites. I’m just eating too much, that’s it.”  But that wasn’t the only symptom- I was very moody and emotional.  My emotions were everywhere.  I was starting to get really tired- I started blaming everything on the traveling.

Two months later my symptoms are getting worse.  Yeah I was having bathroom problems, but I just didn’t think that much ofit.  Then one day my stomach and intestine decided they couldn’t take it anymore.  For one week the toilet was my best friend as nothing was staying in me.  All the weight I gained in Mexico was all gone. But after a week I felt great, but my mother insisted I go see a doctor.  To please her, I did.  Went to the doctor’s, and a week later I found out I should be walking, or breathing for that fact.

“Whatever you have done in life to create such a strong immune system, keep it going.”  So long story short, I had 3 protozoan parasites whose intensity was WAY over the threshold for hospitalization.  One of them, Giardia, is common and not life-threatening.  But together with 2 other parasites, my diagnosis was not good.  And long story short (and the really gross part) they found a HUGE amount of fecal matter within my system…. aka I had someone else’s shi* in my system!  You could only imagine my face.  Anytime someone ingests urine or fecal matter = hospitalization.  So huge parasitic infection + huge amount of someone else’s poo = I should not be standing.  It took one year to get my body somewhat back in balance and ensure that all the parasites were eradicated (the eggs of these parasites can go dormant, so you may think you are rid of them, but SURPRISE!  they are hiding somewhere in your system).  I went vegan for a year, no alcohol, and meditated multiple times a day as certain foods and stress seem to re-create the symptoms all over again.  This was also my last year of school- so unlike most people my last year in college didn’t include too much crazy partying.

So apparently I looked death in the eye without ever even knowing it.  Whatever you believe- whether its one God, or multiple spiritual beings, etc., something was looking over my shoulder and gave me a second chance.  I look back to that time, and I learned a lot.  First, I do my best to live life to its fullest. I live life to its fullest as happy as I can be, and cherish every person that comes into my life.   Secondly, there is no time to be timid about what I want.  I told people I was going to go to Grad School to study parasites in crocs…  I did.  I said I was going to build myself as one of the experts in the world on crocodile parasites and ecological parasitism… I think I have paved that path.  I tell people my goal in life is to have a wildlife sanctuary that encompasses research and eco-tourism… and I think I am creating the opportunities to make this dream a reality. And finally, if I say something taste like shi*, my friends know I’m not joking around since I have personal experience with that (gross I know!).

So, 3 protozoans, various roundworms, dengue, and some Belizean fungus later, I am still standing. (I also think I have Toxoplasma gondii- check out how this parasite infects humans at:  (http://www.eyeswideshutweb.com/t-gondii-facts/).   I like to think my immune system parallels with crocs- super strong usually but during times of stress it crashes hard.  With  my travels to Asia, Central and South America the last couple of years, I haven’t de-wormed myself.  As my dad says, what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.  I’m still surprised I haven’t gotten a botfly- maybe one day.  All I know is that in my will I want the autopsy to do a full parasite analysis- imagine what I will collect over my life!  At least I think it would be fascinating.

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