They Thought It Was a Brain Tumor -- But It Was a Worm

TUESDAY, June 11, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- In January 2018, Rachel Palma started experiencing mysterious symptoms like hallucinations and spasms in her right hand. Some days she was fine. But her symptoms got worse.

"I was no longer able to process the fact that a key opens the door, the now 42-year-old Palma told CNN.

"The computer screen looked completely different -- it was almost foreign," she continued. "What I was perceiving was different and so how I was responding was different -- if someone was asking for a pen, I would give them, for example, a key."

Ten trips to the emergency room didn't improve her condition. The first indication was it might be a brain bleed, but it wasn't so they sent her home.

When Palma had a brain scan, doctors spotted a small lesion and decided to do a biopsy.

"I was told that it was most likely a malignant tumor which would require radiation and chemo even after the surgery," Palma, who is from Middletown, N.Y., said.

That's when a surgical team took over, led by Dr. Jonathan Rasouli, chief resident of neurosurgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

They found quite a surprise.

What they found looked like a quail egg, Rasouli told CNN. "Wait a second, this is clearly not a brain tumor," he said at the time.

When he removed the lesion and looked at it under the microscope, what he found was a baby tapeworm. About 1,000 people a year are hospitalized for this each year in the U.S., according to the CDC.

"There's absolutely no explanation as to how I contracted it," Palma said. Today, she's feeling fine and grateful that the problem was solved. If it hadn't been removed the tapeworm it might have caused a stroke or even death.

"This is not something that is cause for widespread panic," Palma said. "What happened to me is extremely rare -- it's not the norm -- for someone who has not been overseas to contract this."

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