In 2016, Abby Beckley felt an itchy, tingling sensation in her eye, and wrote it off as a stray eyelash. But when the discomfort continued, she realized it was something much more serious.
“I finally couldn’t take it any [more],” Beckley told NPR. “I went to the mirror and decided I’m going to pull out what ever was in my eye, even if I have to rip part of my eye out.”
Beckley, now 28, held her eye open, and grabbed a small, string-like material from beneath her eyelid. She soon realized it was a worm.
“It was squiggling on my finger,” she said. “I thought,’This is nuts! A worm just came out of my eye.’ ”
Panicked, Beckley and her family sought answers, and met with doctors and specialists who couldn’t figure out what was happening to the otherwise healthy woman. During her search for answers, Beckley had pulled four more worms out of her eye, according to NPR.
“When the ophthalmology people checked me out, they said, ‘this is probably mucous,’ ” Beckley told the Washington Post, noting that some officials were skeptical of her story. They changed their tune when they saw the thin, white worm crawl across Beckley’s eyeball.
“I’ll never forget the look on the intern’s face when he saw one squiggle across my eye.”
Ultimately, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Medicine determined that Beckley had contracted Thelazia gulosa —a type of cattle eyeworm. Although a few species of Thelazia has been found in humans, Beckley’s is the first reported case of gulosa in known history, according to the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
She told doctors that, in the summer of 2016, she lived on an inactive cattle ranch in southern Oregon, but, “There was just one cow,” she said, according to NPR.
“I was just like, ‘What the hell is going on? And what in the heck am I going to do?’ ” she told NPR of the ordeal. “It’s a living nightmare.”
Medical parasitologist Richard Bradbury identified the species of worm after reading a nearly 90-year-old journal written in German. He detailed what likely happened to Beckley, telling NPR that both male and female worms live on the surface of a cow’s eye. The worms mate and produce several tiny larvae which flies feed on and release into another cow’s eye — or, in this case, Beckley’s eye.
“Yes, that’s right,” Bradbury told NPR. “The fly vomited the worms into her eye.”
He added a bit of advice: “When you see flies around your face, swat them away before they land in your eyes.”
In the end, doctors removed a total of 14 worms from Beckley’s eye over the course of a month, according to OHSU. They assured her that the creatures would not crawl into her brain or impact her eyesight. Now, Beckley says she hopes her story could prevent others from going through the same thing.
“If this does happen to anyone else, I want them to know this girl went through it, and she’s fine,” Beckley told the Washington Post. “And not to freak out.”