What began as a simple irritation of Abby Beckley’s eye soon festered into a parasitic infection she never saw coming.
Growing up in Brookings, Oregon, Beckley was an avid lover of the outdoors and travel and was consistently surrounded by cattle and horses, which she had been around before taking a job on a commercial salmon fishing boat in Craig, Alaska.
According to Fox News, just a few weeks into the job, Beckley noticed a change.
“My left eye just got really irritated and red, and my eyelid was droopy,” Beckley recalled. “I was getting migraines too, and I was like, ‘What is going on?’”
Five days into her suffering, the ship finally returned to port. Beckley examined her eye once more, where she found the first parasite.
“I pulled down the bottom of my eye and noticed that my skin looked weird there,” Beckley said. “So I put my fingers in with a sort of a plucking motion, and a worm came out!”
Beckley admitted she was in absolute shock as she ran to her crewmate, Amanda, telling her what had happened as the two women viciously researched the condition, which they initially thought was a salmon worm.
Upon her arrival home, Beckley went directly to Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, who were just as stunned by their patient’s condition.
“They said they had never seen anything like this,” said Beckley, who had pulled another four worms out of her eye by that point. “And then I could see them moving across my eye at that point, too. There were so many.”
“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?” Beckley recalled. “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.”
However, at the last moment, Beckley saw one across her eye and urged doctor’s to take a look.
“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.”
Medical professionals immediately began taking the worms out, though it was a gradual process as they couldn’t give Beckley anything to take that would kill them directly for fear they would stay inside her eye.
Doctor’s sent the worms to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, where medical parasitologist Richard Bradbury began digging for information on the species of the worm and finding only one reference to it in a German journal published in 1928.
Bradbury said the parasitic bug was Thelazia gulosa, a worm unique to cattle.
“It’s possible that there are cases that were misdiagnosed as another species of the worm, californiensis, because people just assume that it will be,” Bradbury said. “But through our work, we were able to understand that a brand-new species can now infect people who are around cattle.”
“But what was really exciting it that it is a new species that has never infected people before,” he added. “It’s a cattle worm that somehow jumped into a human.”
But what is exciting for one can be a nightmare for another, as Beckley found out during the three week period she endured the parasitic organism. And she hopes that her story will help somebody else who may encounter the same issue.
“Part of the reason I’m speaking out is that I had wished I could find one article or source that would reassure me this happened to someone else and they are fine,” Beckley said. “If this does happen again, I’m hoping my story will be out there for the next person to find.”