My husband and I took our first child-free vacation last year. We spent 10 glorious days in Costa Rica and came back rejuvenated, refreshed, and madly in love. Unfortunately, though, amazing memories were not all we brought back with us. While we were there, I contracted a parasite called Cryptosporidium (aka Crypto) and a rare form of E. coli that went undetected in my body for over eight months, causing 2015 to be the year from hell.
I've always had a sensitive stomach, so diarrhea, cramping, and nausea were not particularly unusual for me; however, a week after we got back into the United States, I came down with what I thought was the worst stomach bug of my life. I was laid out for nearly a week, barely able to eat or drink anything, had constant diarrhea and vomiting, and was utterly exhausted. After a week, the vomiting stopped, but the diarrhea persisted and I began to have blood in my stool.
I made an appointment with my gastrointestinal doctor, who then scheduled an immediate colonoscopy and endoscopy. There were a few abnormal cells in my stomach that the doctor biopsied, and the results came back confirming that I have celiac disease. Although a diagnosis of Celiac wasn't ideal, I was relieved to have an explanation for all the troublesome symptoms.
I had also tested positive for an autoimmune disease when the doctor did my blood work months prior, and was still waiting to see a rheumatologist. She tested me for Lyme and Lupus, among several other rheumatological issues. All of the specific tests came back negative, but I was still testing positive for an autoimmune disease. She explained that sometimes patients can show symptoms for years before whatever it is starts to show up in the blood work.
As a result, I started following a strict gluten-free diet the following week but saw no improvement in symptoms. I soon began to experience significant numbness and tingling in my arms, legs, chest and back. Since I had seen my doctor so much in the past few months, I tried to put off going in, but when my right leg went completely numb while I was driving and I couldn't feel my foot on the break or gas pedals, I finally went back to see him.
My doctor ordered blood work and referred me to a neurologist to rule out multiple sclerosis (MS). The neurologist couldn't see me right away and the wait was absolutely torturous. When I researched everything I could about MS, all of my symptoms matched up.
I was still having diarrhea daily, which, needless to say, made it really hard to function with three toddlers at home. I finally saw the neurologist, who ordered an MRI of my brain and spine. When the MRI came back normal, the neurologist ruled out MS. This should have been a huge relief, but at that point I was so desperate to find an explanation for my symptoms that I was, crazy as it sounds, crushed to find I didn't have MS.
The neurologist began treating my symptoms with medications and also referred me to Duke University for a food sensitivity test called the Mediator Release Test (MRT) because of my ongoing diarrhea and pain. By the beginning of August I had the results of that back and found out I was highly reactive (considered an allergy) to soy, which explained why going gluten-free didn't improve my symptoms, even though I have celiac disease.
Part of the MRT testing is an appointment with a LEAP-certified nutritionist, who sets up a structured meal plan based on your least reactive foods, then slowly introduces new foods. It's supposed to give your body time to cleanse itself from all of the reactive foods, which cause inflammation that leads to a variety of symptoms.
With my restricted diet, I was eating only 14 foods – mostly fruits and vegetables. Four days into my diet I got really sick with watery diarrhea and constant around-the-clock vomiting. After becoming so dehydrated I couldn't even get myself to the bathroom, I went to an urgent care clinic for IV fluids.
While I was there, they did a stool sample and – finally – discovered the Cryptosporidium and rare strain of E. coli.
The doctor was required to report it to the health department and I had an interview with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also were mandated to refer me to an infectious disease doctor, and upon seeing her, I learned that this particular parasite and E. coli strain were likely being suppressed by the chemicals in the foods I was eating. As soon as I cut back to only fruits and vegetables, the parasite began to attack my body.
I treated the parasite with an anti-parasitic medication called Nitazoxanide that was very aggressive. I felt like I had the flu for a week after taking the pills, but after that the diarrhea and nausea were gone for the first time in over eight months.
The parasite caused major issues. The numbness and tingling subsided, but I developed acute pancreatitis (which lasted several months) due to all of the vomiting during those few weeks. I was hospitalized for the pain and discovered that my liver was enlarged, as well. We are slowly clawing our way our of serious financial debt because of all of the medical issues the parasite caused.
Throughout the endless doctors appointments and tests, I was diagnosed with a slew of chronic illnesses that I am now treating. I'm still struggling to gain back all of the weight I lost and have frequent upset stomach and nausea.
And while my body isn't even close to what it was before I contracted the parasite, I am so grateful to be alive.