A dream family holiday to Thailand has turned into an ongoing nightmare for a young woman who has spent the last seven years at the mercy of a rare parasite.
Tess Swift, then 20, caught a parasitic worm while on a Thailand holiday. She returned home from the holiday in 2015 with a slight stomach illness that saw her rushed to hospital a few weeks later.
Doctors were perplexed, as every diagnosis for seven years resulting in no cure.
Since then, Ms Swift has been in and out of hospital as doctors tried to work out what was wrong before she finally got the answers she needed two months ago.
She had contracted a parasite induced disease called gnathostomiasis which had attacked her digestive system, partially paralysed her digestive tract and has forced Swift to wear have a feeding tube for the last four years, Daily Mail reported.
Although the parasite is dead, inoperable and ongoing effects haunt Swift – living with untreatable effects such as chronic pain and nausea and fighting numerous mental illnesses.
‘It kind of ruined my life. I was only 20 when it happened and there’s so much going on in your life when you’re 20, and there was so much I had to miss out on because I was in hospital or too unwell to go … I ended up losing a lot of my friendships because I was so unwell I could never do anything,’ she told news.com.au.
This illness has caused Swift to drop out of her nursing degree and forced to move back in with her parents near Geelong.
Doctors have spent seven years trying to work out what was making Ms Swift so severely ill.
In 2018 it was found that her digestive tract had become partially paralysed and her first feeding tube was placed directly into her stomach.
The following year, Ms Swift was at her sickest and spent six-and-a-half weeks in hospital she was tested for a myriad of rare diseases as a last resort.
Testing was done in Bangkok and Thailand with the Covid-19 pandemic causing extensive delays.
The tests identified the culprit almost three years later in November 2022, in a letter from Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital, a hospital Ms Swift had never been to.
‘I thought it was a scam,’ Ms Swift’s mother Virginia Dickson-Swift recalled.
‘We open it and it says ‘Dear Tess, you’ve tested positive for gnathostomiasis, call me.’
Gnathostomiasis is a parasitic infection caused by several species of parasitic worms of the genus, Gnathostoma, that can be fatal in some cases.
Ms Swift underwent immediate treatment to kill the parasite.
She now lives with major depressive disorder, chronic pain and nausea, PTSD and still has to use a feeding tube.
She underwent her latest surgery last week to fix complications with her tube.
Ms Swift and her mother now want to raise awareness for the mostly-unknown disease that has only been treated 68 times by the only gnathostomiasis specialist in Australia.
Ms Dickson-Swift believes more information should be available for travellers to areas where the parasite is ‘an endemic’ and that the parasites be tested more often.’It’s such a rare parasite. The doctors we’ve spoken to since have no idea really, they’ve never heard about it,’ she said.
‘[We want] to raise awareness that it could be a possibility from someone who has returned from Asia… If you’ve been to the specific places where this thing is then it’s a possibility.’
Her daughter documents her health struggles on social media.
‘I always viewed my journey as an ‘illness’ only journey, but my perspective has shifted. I now view it as my ‘illness and wellness’ journey,’ Ms Swift recently wrote.
‘I look forward to continuing to explore the best ways and combinations to support my body, my mind and my soul.’