Luis Ortiz suffered from what he thought was just a really persistent major headache for about a month. However, the truth of his condition turned out to be much worse, something that certainly sounds as if it is straight out of a horror movie. The 26-year-old had to undergo life-saving brain surgery when that headache became so severe he had to be rushed to the hospital and doctors found that his pain was caused by a live tapeworm wiggling in the college student’s brain, one that almost killed him.
The headaches began in August, but Ortiz said he ignored them for a long time and “didn’t think much of it.” The final episode of Luis Ortiz’s journey with the tapeworm occurred right after he had started college at Sacramento State. Whilst visiting his parents and a friend in Napa, the student spent a particularly warm day outside skateboarding and when the headache returned he thought it may have been the result of heat stroke or a migraine. The pain intensified when he returned to his mother’s house though and she stated that he actually seemed disoriented for a while before he started vomiting. His mother rushed him to the hospital. Doctors at the Queen of the Valley Medical Center discovered a live tapeworm had burrowed its way into the depths of the young man’s brain and was on the verge of killing him.
CBS News reported that the California native was given a series of possibilities as to how the life-threatening tapeworm could have found its way into his brain, but is still not sure how it occurred.
“They told me it was uncooked pork or if I went swimming in the river or if I’ve been to a third world country and I was like, ‘I haven’t done any of that recently.’ But I don’t know how long that worm was in my head for.”
Apparently there are six different types of tapeworms that are known to infect humans and they tend to be identified by the animals they come from. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that undercooked meat is the most common transmitter of intestinal parasites like the tapeworm but tapeworms that result in brain infections are usually from ingesting tapeworm eggs directly. The brain infection is called Cysticercosis and can result if food prepared by an infected person is eaten and the larvae spreads due to poor hygiene. The larvae then travels to the brain.
Ortiz’s pain was so great that he not only passed out during the tapeworm-inducing incident, but also as the tapeworm almost killed him he became comatose. Doctors had to drill into his skull in order to drain it and release the pressure. After several tests and X-rays, Ortiz was told by neurosurgeon Dr. Soren Singel that a live tapeworm was in his brain, encased in a cyst that was blocking off the flow of water to his brain. They needed to operate as soon as possible as another 30 minutes with the blockage would kill Luis Ortiz.
According to the L.A. Times a hole was drilled above Ortiz’s eyebrow through which Dr. Singel was able to extract the tapeworm and cyst after creating a map of Ortiz’s brain and head. He then used a brain-navigating system and an “endoscope-like device” to reach the cyst. Singel reported that “the worm was still wiggling when we pulled it out.” The tapeworm that almost killed Ortiz was actually fairly small, only about one-sixteenth of an inch and the cyst one-third of an inch. That, of course, did not prevent Ortiz, when he was shown it after surgery, from being disgusted that it had been inside his brain.
The wiggling tapeworm that gave Ortiz his near death experience changed his life; he had to drop out of college and move back home to his parents and was unable to drive or work. Though still suffering from some memory loss he’s got a new lease on life and his cognitive therapy ended slightly before Halloween.
“I am just happy to be alive, I got lucky.”
[Photo Courtesy of Juan Gaertner/ Shutterstock]