28-year-old Abby Beckley was fidgeting in her irritated eye for what she thought was a loose eyelash. What she retrieved was something she didn’t expect – a wiggling transparent worm almost a half inch long.
“I looked at it, and it was moving,” she said. The worm died within five minutes of being pulled from her eye. This was horrifying enough, but it got worse. She had to do this not just once but 14 TIMES.
She thought she got the worms while working on the fishing boat.
In a span of three weeks in August 2016, Beckley had to endure what must have been the stuff of nightmares. Her case was published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
“This is only the 11th time a person has been infected by eye worms in North America, “ says the Richard Bradbury, the study’s lead author. He is also the team leader for the CDC’s Parasite Diagnostics and Biology Laboratory.
“But what was really exciting it that it is a new species that has never infected people before. It’s a cattle worm that somehow jumped into a human,” he added.
Beckley, an outdoor kind of person, grew up on a ranch in Oregon. She is used to being surrounded by horses and cattle. She wanted to travel so when a chance to work on a commercial fishing boat in Craig, Alaska was offered in July 2016, she immediately grabbed it.
It was after a couple of weeks on the job that she started to feel the symptoms.
“My left eye just got really irritated and red, and my eyelid was droopy. I was getting migraines too, and I was like, ‘What is going on?'”
She endured it for five days and when the ship returned to port, she got a mirror and examined her eye closely. What she found shocked her.
“I pulled down the bottom of my eye and noticed that my skin looked weird there. So I put my fingers in with a sort of a plucking motion, and a worm came out!”
“I was just in shock,” she said. “I ran into my crewmate Allison’s room, and I said, ‘I need you to see this! I just pulled a worm out of my eye!'”
She thought it was a case of a salmon worm and searched online for similar cases. She didn’t find anything. She visited a doctor and an ophthalmologist but didn’t help.
“They said they had never seen anything like this,” Beckley said. She added that during that time, she extracted another four worms from her eye. “And then I could see them moving across my eye at that point, too. There were so many.”
She was convinced by family and friends to consult with the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. She headed there straight from the airport.
“There were several doctors examining my eye, and at first, they were a bit skeptical, because who comes in and claims they have a worm in their eye?”
“I am thinking to myself, ‘Worms, please show up,’ because sometimes they would go behind my eye and under the eyelid, and you couldn’t see or feel them anymore.”
The worms eventually appeared after half an hour.
“I felt one squiggle across my eye, and I told the doctors, ‘You need to look right now!’ ” Beckley said. “I’ll never forget the expression on their faces as they saw it move across my eye.”
Some of the worms extracted from her eye were sent to the CDC for studying. She went through vision tests and eye washes in the university. Her vision remained intact but the other works refused to be washed away.
“I just kept pulling the worms out of my eye at home, but when I went to the office, they would flush, and nothing would come out,” Beckley said. “They were trying to figure out what to do because there was no road map, no protocol for this.”
She was worried sick of what the worms can do to the rest of her body since it was “so close to my brain and eyes.”
“I tried not go to the darkest place, like, are these worms going to paralyze my face or infect my brain or impact my vision?” she said.
Fortunately, a doctor explained that the worms will remain on the surface of her eye, which calmed her fears a bit.
“I was definitely in distress, for sure, but I also started making jokes, because I had to, to deal with it,” Beckley said. “It’s so gross to think about, but it was happening to me.”
The CDC was faced with a medical mystery. Most cases of eye worm infection in humans happen in poor rural areas with lots of flies around. Beckley didn’t recall of flies landing close to her eye.
They discovered that the worm species is called Thelazia gulosa and has never been seen in a human eye. But it is unique to cattle, so it means that she picked up the infection in her hometown, before she left for Alaska.
Doctors didn’t treat Beckley with anti-parasitic medicine to prevent possible scarring caused by dead worms remaining in her eye. She was told to just monitor her eye and remove any worms she will find. Twenty days after finding the first worm, she finally pulled out the last one. Her vision remained the same and there were no complications.
Watch the video to know more about Beckley’s ordeal:
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