Each week we comb through science journals to explore a baffling medical issue.
Carson Meyer, a 20-year-old NHL prospect, had just been drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets after scoring 10 goals and 26 points in a breakout season for Miami University. As he returned for his sophomore season, however, a mysterious medical condition that was growing inside him threatened to put his career on ice.
It was August 2017 when Meyer, who was still riding high from the draft, began to realize something was wrong. “I was exhausted all the time and couldn’t keep food down,” the sixth-round draft pick told The Athletic. “I knew the whole time I had the ability to do things, I just didn’t have the energy to do them.”
Meyer, who grew up cheering for the team who had just drafted him, was lost in a mental fog, losing weight and unable to shake the feeling he was letting his coaches down. His performance had dropped off so much from the previous year that an opposing coach reportedly asked one of his teammates if he had cancer.
“I was so grateful they drafted me, then I turn around and have that season,” Meyer said. “I was embarrassed at times, coming out of the locker room to talk to (Columbus development coach Chris) Clark after a game. I was like ‘I’m a better player than this. I’m just not showing that to you.’ They believed in me, never said anything negative. It was unbelievably helpful.”
It would take a few more maddening months before Meyer discovered what had been weighing him down after a routine trip to the washroom in February 2018. Sitting in the toilet bowl after a bowel movement was a 25-inch orange tapeworm. “I was going to the bathroom, just like normal, and it came out,” Meyer told The Athletic. “I FaceTimed my mom and was like, ‘What the hell is this thing?’ I was freaking out. Absolutely freaking out.”
Doctors believe the unwelcome guest was diphyllobothrium latum, a species of tapeworm found in uncooked fish. Fortunately, the worm, which can reach 30 feet in length, was just a fraction of that size when Meyer found it.
While most infections of this nature are asymptomatic, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss can occur. Diagnosis usually comes after doctors identify eggs, or parts of the tapeworm itself, in the stool of an infected patient. The infection is easily addressed with medication but doctors recommend raising the internal temperature of any fish meant for human consumption to at least 145 degrees F to ensure treatment is never needed. Freezing fish before cooking is another effective way to take out a tapeworm before it has a chance to do any damage.
After the disgust subsided, Meyer said he was relieved to finally know what had been holding him back. “I was super skinny, I was malnourished,” he said. “Now I feel great. This is the best I have felt in a long, long time. It’s unbelievable. It’s a huge relief. I played sick for an entire year without knowing it.”
The young forward said he was thankful the Blue Jackets had his back throughout the entire ordeal. “We knew something was wrong,” coach Clark said. “When we found out why, we were relieved. Not that something was wrong, but that it was something that was extremely fixable.”
Getting back up to speed took some time for the malnourished Meyer, who has since recovered his scoring touch and resumed his promising career. He noted one significant change to his diet going forward.
“I will never have sushi again,” he said.
Dave Yasvinski is a writer with Healthing.ca