Worm Eats Cedar Rapids Man's Retina

By Mark Geary, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – John Matthews loves to hunt turkeys and travel to foreign places like Mexico. During one of those adventures, something crawled inside his body.

"It's so small, you couldn't even see it, feel it," Matthews said.

When two dark spots appeared in his vision and his eyesight became a little hazy, he headed to the doctor.

"It was kind of like looking through a muddy lens," he said.

Doctors struggled to diagnose what was wrong with John's left eye. Then, Dr. James Folk at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics found the problem.

"Just by luck, the first picture we looked at, we saw the worm, right in the middle of the retina," Folk said.

A microscopic worm was swimming around inside John's eye.

"It actually lives underneath the retina of the eye and crawls around and eats the retina," Folk said. "The worm goes into the gut, digests in the gut, and actually doesn't crawl through the blood vessels, but crawls through the tissue all the way to the eyes and the brain."

There are only about fifteen known cases like this in the world.

Matthews still remembers that day back in January when he got the news. He said, "I was never freaked out by it when they said, 'You've got a worm in your eye.' I was like, 'Get it out. What do we do now?'"

Soon after making the diagnosis, Dr. Folk armed himself with a laser and put the worm in the cross-hairs.

John was awake the whole time and said he was thinking, "Hurry up and kill the thing. Good luck shootin', doc...I saw something wiggling and I asked if the worm was wiggling. The doc said, 'Yes.' I said, 'I can see it.'"

Dr. Folk said, "When you hit it with the laser, it got very upset. As upset as a worm can get, I suppose...The thing was just thrashing around violently. It would be like one of those titan movies or something."

The worm is dead. It will decompose over time. Now, John must do computer exercises to strengthen his eye. His vision has improved, but may never return to normal.

"His sharp-shooting days are over," Folk said.

For the rest of his life, John will be on a different kind of hunting expedition to see if any doctor can restore his eyesight.

Dr. DeAnn Fitzgerald has worked with John throughout this entire process and continues to see him about twice a month.

Although this condition is rare, Dr. Folk says, in one day, an adult raccoon can shed 60 million eggs that contain these kinds of worms. Folk says Matthews could have somehow ingested raccoon dander. However, John will probably never know exactly how or when the worm got inside him.
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