HILO, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Big Island man who had rat lungworm disease gave a presentation about his excruciating experience to the crowd at an international workshop in Hilo on Monday.
Mark LeRoy's ordeal began last January with a salad.
The 50-year-old Hawi resident said he washed some lettuce from his garden and put it in a salad spinner, but still discovered a slug on his plate.
"About the third bite, I noticed a live slug in the salad after I had lifted my fork and was shocked and scared," he recalled. "The slug was alive. I didn't eat the slug, but I likely brushed my fork against it."
Despite trips to different doctors, LeRoy developed symptoms such as severe headaches and sudden surges of pain.
He ended up bedridden, and at one point, thought he was going to die.
"It felt like I was being electrocuted from the inside out and the pain was so extreme that I was screaming at the top of my lungs," he said.
The vacation rental property manager was finally diagnosed with rat lungworm disease.
LeRoy was one of eight confirmed cases in Hawaii last year.
"We think that the medical system community and our state agencies can do a lot better than they're currently doing about this disease," said LeRoy's wife, Maya Parish, who became his caregiver.
LeRoy and his wife shared their frightening and frustrating experience during a workshop that brought the world's top experts on the disease to Hilo.
"I think it's something that's really important for the community, given that this area has so many cases," said Sue Jarvi, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and the head of the Hawaii Island Rat Lungworm Working Group. "More cases than pretty much anyplace else in the United States originate in East Hawaii.
Jarvi hopes to develop a blood-based test for the disease to avoid the need for a spinal tap.
"We're able to detect the parasite DNA in the blood, and we're doing this routinely now working with veterinarians and dogs, so it's still in the research stage, but it seems to be very promising," said Jarvi.
The three-day conference, which is open to the public, ends on Jan. 8.