rat lungworm disease

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Eric Reinert

Eric Reinert

22-year-old Eric Reinert was confined to a wheel chair when his nervous system was attacked by a crippling disease named Rat Lungworm Disease.

Reinert has been confined to a wheel chair since his nervous system was attacked by the paralysing disease.

The rare microscopic organism lives in rats and can be caught by eating fruit and vegetables that have not been thoroughly washed.

Now the former state wrestler is having to learn to walk again.

"Every movement was just dreaded – horrible, awful, terrible," said Reinert.

The young man left Watertown, Minnesota last November to travel to Hawaii to indulge his passion for organic farming. But the agricultural enthusiast, who hopes to open his own farm in the future, soon developed stomach cramps and muscle weakness. As his nervous system was attacked by this parasite, every vibration caused him horrific pain.

After several days when any movement caused him unbearable agony - he was hospitalised.

"Just staying as still as I could on my back was the only way I could be at peace for even a little bit," said Reinert.

Doctors diagnosed him with rat lungworm.

After a month in the hospital he was allowed to go home and is now making small steps to get back to health. Doctors say he will make a full recovery.

"A lot of people in Hawaii don't even know this exists, I didn't know it existed. I wasn't told about it because I'm sure the people I lived with didn't know that it exists.'

"Honestly - the left side of my face is still numb."

"Every day it gets a little better. It's kind of a roller coaster with the pain but overall, that's what I tell everybody. Overall, I'm getting better every day."

Many Minnesotans go to Hawaii to relax, to get some sun and take in a little bit of paradise.

Working as an assistant with the University of Minnesota softball team is not what Reinert envisioned when he was a stand-out wrestler in high school. Considering what he's been through, he's ecstatic to even be there.

"It's just a surreal thing to imagine that that was me a year ago."

A year ago Reinert weighed 50 pounds less than now and was learning to walk all over again - just like a small child. It was baby steps for reading books and computer screens too. Yet even that was good progress compared to where Eric was in November of 2011.

"The pain was kind of unimaginable."

Reinert was working on a farm in Hawaii's Puna District, learning to become an organic farmer. Two weeks into the program, he got sick and what followed was incredible pain. His nervous system became hypersensitive to the point where the tiniest vibrations sparked discomfort. It happened even when his roommates would walk by while Reinert was lying on his bed.

"I could feel them walking, shooting vibrations up through me. I couldn't feel comfortable in any position."

After a few days, a doctor diagnosed him with Rat Lungworm Disease. Extremely rare and as nasty as it sounds, it can only be found in that part of Hawaii. And it comes from a microscopic parasite in a rat.

Something as simple as eating an unwashed strawberry may have been how Reinert contracted the disease.

"The Honolulu newspaper interviewed me and said I might be the only person on the mainland of America that has ever gotten it." - This is no longer true.

That shows just how unlucky Reinert was, but his luck has changed. Despite occasional pain and discomfort in his right leg, Reinert is nearing a full recovery.

He’s back in Minnesota finishing school at the University of Minnesota, where he's now pitching batting practice to the softball team.

"He challenges them. He's confident in there and he challenges the hitters." said his pitching coach Piper Ritter.

From baby steps to throwing 65 mile an hour fastballs underhand, Reinert credits his family, friends and God for where he is today.

When we talked to him last year he promised he'd recover, and it was a promise he kept.

"That's what I remember when we last talked was I'm going to get better. And that attitude and that drive to want to get better is what helped me get better."

Reinert plays men's fastpitch softball in the summer and last summer, he was able to do some of that, though he said running was still difficult.

He said he will graduate from the U of M next spring, and he still plans on pursuing a career in horticulture.




This information is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the parasites described above or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.

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