Her Doctors Thought She Had a Brain Tumor. But When The Surgeons Open Her Up They Discover Something Terrifying!

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Rachel Palma, a 42 year old woman living in Middletown, New York, had just gotten married and was looking forward to starting a new chapter with the man she loved.  While most everything in her life was going smoothly, she started to notice some strange things going on with her health. Rachel seemed to be having trouble remembering things that she shouldn’t have been struggling with.  She couldn’t think of words to communicate with and recalled one incident where she showed up to work without her uniform, even though she’d been working at the same place for the past five years.

In addition to memory problems, she was also losing her motor skills and would suddenly drop things, such a coffee cup, seemingly out of the blue.  It only got worse as she began hallucinating, having horrible nightmares and insomnia, and by January 2018 she was struggling to make sense of text messages and emails.  Her confusion had resulted in a number of scary episodes and despite having gone to the emergency room several times, she was no closer to getting any answers as to why she was acting like this.

After reaching out to specialists at Mount Sinai Hospital and explaining the strange symptoms she was experiencing they immediately ordered an MRI.  The brain scans revealed a marble-sized lesion on her left frontal lobe which led doctors to believe she had a potentially cancerous malignant brain tumor.  Rachel was shocked and saddened by the news that she might have such an aggressive type of life threatening cancer but vowed to do whatever she could to fight it.  After a biopsy, doctors found that the tumors contrast had changed and because of this surgery was required.

Dr. Jonathan Rasouli, the chief neurosurgery resident at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, helped treat Rachel and performed her brain surgery.  What he found was completely unexpected and strange, it was not a brain tumor at all, instead he removed an odd looking encapsulated mass that could best be described as resembling a quail egg.  According to Dr. Rasouli, he and other surgeons in the room were shocked and surprised at what they’d found. They had no idea what it was, so they placed it under a microscope to examine it further.

Still perplexed by what they’d removed from Rachel’s brain, the surgeons decided to cut it open and were astonished to find that the mass held a baby tapeworm inside it!  She had been suffering from neurocysticercosis, a parasitic disease people get from ingesting microscopic eggs from a tapeworm found in pork. The eggs hatch inside the body and the larvae can end up travelling to the to muscles, skin, eyes, and even brain where they form cysts.  In Rachel’s case, the tapeworm ended up settling in her brain near the speech center, which is what led to her symptoms.

While most people would be freaked out about having a parasite living in their brain, Rachel was happy and relieved because she didn’t have a tumor or brain cancer.  The parasitic disease could be treated more easily than cancer and after a round of antibiotics she was declared parasite-free. The question remains as to how she contracted the tapeworm in the first place because she hadn’t eaten undercooked meat or travelled outside the US.  Despite not knowing this, Rachel says she “stopped asking questions and started celebrating and making the most out of life.” In the end, she chose not to dwell on the scary experience she went through and is instead looking forward to the future.

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