WATERTOWN (WCCO) — People travel to Hawaii to relax and get some sun and surf, but a Minnesota man’s trip to paradise turned into a nightmare after he contracted a paralyzing disease.

Eric Reinert is 22 years old and learning to walk all over again.

He’s taking baby steps and it can be hard to keep his balance, but they are a long way from where he was just a month ago.

He was stuck in a wheelchair in a Hawaiian hospital all because of a microscopic parasite.

“Every movement was just dreaded – horrible, awful, terrible,” said Reinert.

Last November, he traveled from Watertown, Minn. to Hawaii’s Puna District to learn about organic farming. His plan was to someday open his own farm back home.

But it wasn’t long before he started getting stomach cramps and his muscles began feeling weak. Then the unknown illness took a painful turn.

“Just staying as still as I could on my back was the only way I could be at peace for a little bit,” said Reinert.

His nervous system became hypersensitive. As he lay bed-ridden, it took a lot of mental willpower to move even an inch. Every vibration his roommates made caused excruciating pain.

“When they would walk I would just cringe at them walking. Just the slightest vibrations and in the hospital later on,” said Reinert.

After a few days, Reinert ended up in the hospital, and lucky for him, that’s where a doctor figured out what was wrong. He diagnosed him with “Rat Lungworm Disease.”

“A lot of people in Hawaii don’t know this exists, I didn’t know it existed. I wasn’t told about it because I’m sure the people I lived with didn’t know it exists,” said Reinert.

It’s extremely rare and it’s as nasty as it sounds. The lungworm parasite lives in rats and comes out in their droppings. A slug in Hawaii eats the parasite and that same slug lays its eggs on fruits and vegetables. Eating some produce that wasn’t washed is likely how he got the parasite.

Losing feeling in parts of his body is part of the disease.

“Honestly … this left side of my face is still numb,” said Reinert.

He was hospitalized for more than a month and still using a wheelchair when more than 40 of his closest friends and family welcomed him home.

Support continues to roll in through his Caring Bridge site, as his parents’ living room has become his recovery room.

Neighbors have been bringing Reinert and his family dinners a few times a week.

He’s lost 50 pounds, and is far removed from the local boy who won a state wrestling championship just a few years ago, but he knows baby steps will ultimately get him to where he needs to be.

“Every day it gets a little better. It’s kind of a roller coaster with the pain but overall, that’s what I tell everybody. Overall, I’m getting better every day,” he said.

Doctors said Reinert will eventually make a full recovery.

He said his mother and his faith in God have helped him get stronger.

His friends have already helped raise more than $3,500 for his medical bills including a race they organized on New Year’s Day.

John Lauritsen

Comments (114)
  1. Matt says:


    1. Beware of Frauds says:

      Multi-Vits and Protein. Forget dangerous fruits and Veges promoted by the USDA and the farm lobby.

  2. Jman says:

    This article begins by comparing this man to typical tourists in Hawaii. Later, we find out he was working on an organic farm. Why doesn’t the article attempt to connect this rare disease to his exposures on an organic farm? Would this parasite have been eliminated with pesticides not allowed on an organic farm? But, alas, the article does not even scratch the surface of these relevant issues.

    1. nunya in ct says:

      Well said, I was thinking the same exact thing! Organic farming, my rear end. Pesticides when used properly are VERY beneficial.

      1. lameramera62 says:

        It is my belief that this person had the wrong diagnosis, the Dr’s probably are not informed about Guillian-Barre Syndrome. This has nothing to do with Organic Farming or presticides or for that matter rat feces.

    2. SteveThomas says:

      FugginMoron, you are the only commenter here who inferred any partisan rhetoric. If you are so hypersensitive that you think organic anything has anything to do with politics, you really should think about seeing a psychologist for your paranoia.

      1. brassia says:

        Agree- I guess it was an Obama supporter!

      2. Ironic says:

        “If you are so hypersensitive that you think organic anything has anything to do with politics…”

        @Steve If you are so hypersensitive that you think partisan only refers to politics, you really should think about seeing a psychologist for your paranoia.

        1. Very Ironic says:


          Actually, that is exactly what partisan means. Maybe you should have consulted a dictionary before trying to be witty.

          1. ImWitty says:

            Wow – one would think that’s a good idea. So I did: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/partisan Perhaps you also should follow your own advice.

            There is something on the internet (or interwebs or “magic information box”, depending on what you folk call it), called GOOGLE.COM. If you go there, you can find the same info.

            No – Partisan is not solely remanded to politics… but nice try. Thanks for thinking I’m witty though! 🙂

      3. FugginMorons says:

        Of course organic farming has political connotations and to pretend otherwise is either silly or ignorant depending on the aspersion caster.

        Whether you favor organic farming or modern petro-chemical farming, you should rinse the item before eating. Neither method removes the necessity of proper handling.

    3. Kim says:

      No…pesticides don’t do a thing for rat lungworm. This is something again, spread normally by snail/slug contact with rat feces and then left on vegetable leaves. It is very rare and many cases are less toxic. I believe that the slug/snail that carries the parasite after contact with rat feces is a snail that had been unintentionally imported into Hawaii, and not every snail has the ability to move the parasite. An organic farm or normal farm are just as susceptible and the real key is to wash vegetables thoroughly. I actually live here in Hawaii.

    4. Yirmin Snipe says:

      You assume that a mamby-pamby would dare to wash off anything they ate if it was organic… lord knows I’ve known some of these over educated nutters. They wont wash off the food because they think it removes some of the nutrients, they wouldn’t dare put a drop of bleach in the water to make sure washing the food worked because that is poison… no they want to use rain water if at all possible because tap water has chlorine in it… these folks are all Darwin Award winners waiting to happen.

    5. JWnTX says:

      No guarantee pesticides would have killed the eggs–but I’ll guarantee they would have killed the slugs that laid the eggs. Idiot.

  3. Kevin Sedlak says:

    When your only fertilizer is feces you should probably throughly wash the produce. Lots of people get e-coli from organic foods.

    1. TrueMan says:

      FUN FACT: In Mexico, they use municipal sewer water on their produce. Enjoy your Mexican imported veggies!

      1. orwellwasright says:

        Yep, this is a well known fact and is why I never buy produce from Mexico. They are probably still spraying with DDT over there as well.

        1. John Moser says:

          There’s nothing dangerous about DDT. In fact, the illegalization of DDT has cost millions of lives(mostly children).

          1. EddyJ says:

            >>In fact, the illegalization of DDT has cost millions of lives(mostly children).

            (mostly dark children) actually…

            …and that was the point all along. The people who wanted DDT banned were the same exact people complaining about the worldwide “population explosion”.

          2. Bobby99 says:

            The fake scientist Rachel Carson with her book started the DDT scare and now the UN has outlawed it’s use, Killing millions, mostly in Africa as a form of population control. UN is bad.

        2. Rob says:

          Well known fact. They do that in San Jose CA as well.

  4. denver bill says:

    Organic food is so good for you, because they don’t use those nasty fertilizers and pesticides. Organic farming ….. not so much.

  5. Soldierfoley says:

    Stupid hippie. Pestacides were created for a reason. To keep these filthy critters off our food. I’ll bet he was saying to himself, “there’s no chemicals on this, so I can eat it right off the vine.” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

    1. Really says:

      Hey dumb @$$, he isn’t a hippie just because he has a beard and is looking into organic farming. He can’t shave due to the pain. He comes from a farming community and is looking into new farming trends that are producing higher returns. Its called good business sense. Something you obviously are not capable of comprehending.

      Do a little research and you will find out pesticides don’t prevent this from happening. Produce has to be washed regardless.

      And what the f… is wrong with you people laughing at someone who is fighting a serious illness. If you ever become sick I hope people will be more compassionate to you. But if not, I guess what goes around comes back around.

    2. Dawn says:

      How sad that you have no compassion for the suffering of another human being!

    3. Dr. Maddox says:

      Soldierfoley … you are a degenerate low IQ moron lacking any human qualities, but other than that I’m sure you’re a mental deficient too.

    4. orwellwasright says:

      Try spelling words correctly before you call someone else stupid. Keep eating those pesticides, soldier. Darwin’s theory in motion.

      1. mel says:

        A handful of people died last year because they swam in fresh water that happened to have a micro organism in it that killed them. Bacteria and organisms are everywhere, and our exposure to them is inevitable. I’d still take organic food over the horrible chemicals.

        1. Beware of Frauds says:

          After being sickened twice, in Mexico, I’ll take my chances with chemicals. They occur in measured doses that your body can deal with. Vegetables are oer-promoted by the USDA and farm lobby. Vitamins and Protein are what people need, not what used to be called Po’ Folk food.

      2. Ozymandius says:

        I’d say the evolution of safe, healthy food has been made possible by the correct use of chemicals and properly washing produce before consumption. Darwin’s theory applies here, but to the detriment of the hippie organic farmer.

        Back in the 70s, Dr.s started treating diseases not seen for hundreds of years due to “natural” and communal living, organics is just a new face on that failed movement.

        I’ve heard of people getting e. coli (and now “rat lungworm”) from organic food, but nothing from chemically treated produce.

        Better living through chemistry is my motto.

        1. Stee says:

          There have been many outbreaks of e. coli traced back to non-organic produce. Google is your friend.

  6. Dave says:

    There is a reason modern farming techniques has expanded life expectancy to 85 instead of 55. The whole Green religion thing is detrimental to the health of our country and the world.

    1. Really says:

      This is a complete BS statement.

      Please site your source that relates the increase of life expectancy to farming techniques. You can’t. Most of the increase in life expectancy has been attributed to medical advances.

      All modern farming techniques have mainly accounted for is higher output.

      1. Beware of Frauds says:

        Starvation kills people sooner or later.

      2. Finbar says:

        I can site his sources from my house.

      3. Buddy says:

        Care to compare the rate of food born illnesses prior to the invention of pesticides and antibacterial/antifungal treatments and the yield of organic crops compared to commercially fertilized crops? They weren’t invented for the hell of it. Here’s a start for your research:


    2. orwellwasright says:

      Dave, yes, it is much better to have dirty food, dirty air and dirty water. Green is so unhealthy. You are right.

      1. Stephen Tomory says:

        Sounds to me like dirty pesticide free food is what led to this poor man’s affliction.

  7. James says:

    I think I’ll take my chances with the pesticides.

  8. Barold says:

    Filthy Hawaiians. We don’t have that problem here in America, thank God.

    1. Larry says:

      @Barold, I hope for your sake you’re a troll and not actually that ignorant.

    2. GDJ says:

      Ummm, hello, Barold. News flash: Hawaii is an American state, just like the other 49 that make up America. Oh, and by the way, how’s the weather under that rock you’re living under?

    3. michele says:

      WOW…you are the most ignorant person out there!

  9. Diego Roswell says:

    On a similar note, Washington DC officials have made it illegal to kill rats. Instead they must be caught alive, and in family groups, and then relocated to a safe habitat, all at the property owner’s expense. This and the killing of the Keystone pipeline project are the type of laws that you can expect from another term with the Obamas who choose the militant environmentalists extreme views over common sense. REMOVE all rats NOBAMA2012.

    1. nunya in ct says:

      BINGO, we have a winner! Obama and the rest of those Marxist, racist, Islamist anti American slimeballs have to be voted out of office. We can’t take another 4 years of his change!

    2. lorindashacklett@yahoo.com says:

      Not to support this ridiculous law, but it IS still legal to kill Brown Rats (sewer rats), Black rats (roof rats) and house mice.

      1. Peter Clausen says:

        Maybe DC will have a plague which leaves no neighborhoods intact and a good amount of this country’s slime will evaporate?

    3. MorganGray says:

      Yeah, and Barry says that killing the pipeline and increasing unemployment benefits will create more jobs than the pipeline itself would have.

      What freakin’ planet does he live on anyhow?

    4. Em Spearing says:

      Aww, I should have read your post before writing mine. Ya stole my thunder. Best reply yet. Kudos. Maybe we should should organize a rat deportation and Underground Rat Railroad movement to bring Hawaii’s disease-vectoring rats to Washington DC. They’d be in a perfect place.

  10. bo1921 says:

    You people in Washington D.C. pay attention. Your councilwoman, mary cheh, has passed legislation that rats must be relocated instead of eradicated. On top of that, when relocated, the rat families have to remain intact (??). She is a leftist tool in the mold of frances fox piven (their motto: overwhelm the system). So, to make a long story short DC, rat lungworn coming to you courtesy of the likes of mary cheh.

    1. moreco2 says:

      And here in Marxist Boulder, CO, it is illegal to kill the vermin known as Prairie Dogs. In fact, there are groups of these citizen loons that go out and help the baby vermin by putting eye drops in their eyes. They also have a university that blatantly brainwashes the kids where America is evil and Marxism is good. This is a true story.

  11. sodakoboi says:

    The tourist materials tell you NOT to drink the untreated fresh water. All the books tell you to not even stand in it. The locals all tell you not to drink out of the catchment tanks, and if he lived in Puna he must have recerived warnings galore. People can get rat lungworm from even touching the silverish trails left by the slugs on unwashed fruit. Outside of all the stores, Malmo market and Orchidland and in Keaau there are banks of purified drinking water machines for like 35 cents a gallon and such. You gotta open ears and listen. Mother nature is harsh but lots of kind folks there who will take you in hand.

  12. Al says:

    Hmmmm, I think I will be making a gift of organic pineapples to my congress person…

  13. Another James says:

    Here is a good read about a particular pesticide mentions possible connections to autism and the complete devastation to our nations bioecosystem that’s worse than DDT. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/01/15/dr-don-huber-interview-part-2.aspx?e_cid=20120115_SNL_Art_1 YOU DECIDE

  14. Artist Patrick says:

    I remember Obama got a parasite when he was there a few months ago.

    LOL a parasite living on a paraste.

    1. Mary says:

      You are an idiot………………Why do we have such hate in this country???? People like you

      1. Doc says:

        So Mary, you just called someone an idiot and then asked why we have so much hate in this country. Go figure

      2. Ty Webb says:

        I think you just answered your own question perfectly, Mary. Here, I’ll give you a hint… it’s not people like Patrick. It can be traced back to the “tolerant” ones who in reality can only tolerate their own viewpoints.

  15. Shirley says:

    What is the best way to clean your fruit and vegetables??? Is there other ways, besides washing them off???

    1. jackactionhero says:


      Like what?

      1. desert eagle .50 says:

        I don’t know. What do you recommend? Please be specific.

    2. hps says:

      NO.. soap and water is the BEST way.. and on store bought veggies sometimes that is not enough since they coat things like apples..cukes.. etc with some kind of oil (cukes) and something like a varnish (apples).. lately I noticed a oily residue on store bought tomatoes .. bad enough they spray them with chemicals so they ripen in route to the supermaket..SCARED to eat all those HEALTHY veggies and fruits yet???

    3. Petye says:

      Use a 10% solution of 2% hydrogen peroxide and water. Wash carefully and keep an eye out for tiny baby slugs. The disease is in their gut and pesticides don’t get rid of them because they crawl into the leafy veges long after any pesticides would be applied to these kinds of veges. BTW the risk of serious health risks are far greater eating green leafy veges that have been recently sprayed with poison.

    4. Mr Helpful says:

      Top shelf in the dishwasher. Short cycle. No soap, just fill half way with non-scented bleach. Low heat dry. Give it a try.

    5. S Tulip 3 says:

      There is this veggie wash that can be found in limited grocery stores. I think it’s basically watered down lemon juice. I soak my veggies in ice water for at least 15min (lettuce for about 45-60 min) before they hit the fridge. If they are robust veggies, then a veggie brush scrubber works well, too. It’s amazing the amount of yuck comes off of them, especially the lettuce. I also peel most of my produce, even apples, peaches, and other edible skin….I know most of the fiber is in the skin but there are also other numerous ways to get your fiber if you eat well.

  16. hps says:

    Well as someone who has a garden every year.. GLAD I don’t do ORGANIC..

  17. David Wells says:

    I am waiting for the national media to go on a “scare” alert warning us against the dangers of organic food, and calling for mandatory use of pesticides and chemicals to ensure the safety of our food supply!!!

  18. Tim Desland says:

    It was either the fruit, or the paralysis-inducing weed he was smoking over there.

  19. Racino !!! says:

    no tax money for Wilf !!!!

  20. BytraWatches says:

    Hey Obummer, on your next Hawiian vacation, can you please increase your produce intake. Just feel free to walk into the fields and pick whatever you want and eat right up!!!

  21. Pete says:

    For all the uneducated on this forum that think pesticides would prevent this disease, I’ll let you in on something. I live in Hawaii and I can only say you get rat-lung disease from eating lettuce, cabbage or other leafy vegetables that have not been washed carefully. These kinds of veges are never treated with pesticides unless the farmers are just plain ignorant and want to poison themselves quickly. The disease is spread to humans by tiny baby slugs and can be prevented by careful washing and using small amounts of hydrogen peroxide as a wash. The disease could care less if you are a hippie or a pampered rich jerk. The ignorant are is it’s best customers.

  22. schmed says:

    There’s a reason we began to use pesticides, events like this included.

  23. Martin Short says:

    I’m not that STRONG a swimmer.

  24. Dave says:

    This IDIOT bought into the No GMO, ORGANIC ONLY stupidity of the trust fund hippies that pollute Hawaii with their presence.

    And no it’s no different for ANYONE who lives or visits the Islands, ANYONE, you don’t have to be on a farm to be exposed to nasty stuff. E-coli, leptospirosis and flesh eating bacteria ABOUND here. NOT highly publicized, YA THINK?!

    “If in doubt, DON’T go out!”

  25. udo says:

    Awww, how cute. Another ‘organic farmer’ dreamer that wants to produce expensive food that won’t feed the worlds growing population that can’t afford organic food in the first place.

  26. Michele says:

    My uncle farms organic in Wisconsin and I’ll tell you for a fact that I have never gotten sick from eating anything right out of the garden unwashed. Use some common sense here folks, organic farming was how all farmers farmed until pesticides came into use, we almost killed off the Bald Eagle beacause of the use of these poisions. Organic farming is where it’s at!

  27. BOB says:


  28. garryj says:

    Organic farming in the Puna district of the Big Island means growing pot. That’s where all the hippies and potheads end up. 90% of the medical marijuana prescriptions in the state of Hawaii are given by a single doctor who lives on the Big Island

  29. Montford John Greenwood says:

    How could anyone blame organic farming for this.
    Because you want naturally grown food doesn’t remove from your hand the responsibility to keep your food hygienic.
    A tough lesson learned by this fellow.

  30. Josh Biggs says:

    Maybe if the farm had been poisoning the rats than this wouldn’t have happened to him. It sounds as if his karma ran over his dogma.

  31. Hello! says:

    the bottom line here is you can get very ill if you do not wash your fruits and veggies off good and HELLO! it does not matter if it is organic or not.

    1. Kim says:

      I can see that some folks are just too simple to understand facts. Rats exist here in Hawaii. They were an import. Being organic or non organic farmer is a moot point when it comes to this disease. It is generally a snail borne disease that the snail picks up when crawling over rat feces. For those folks who hate organic farming and think that pesticides will cure this problem can buy several bridges in Brooklyn. I didn’t realize that folks had been so stupid with some of their comments. These folks should go read about the disease and then post instead of posting before engaging your mind.

      1. John Adams says:

        Pesticides would have taken care of both the rats and the slugs that lay the eggs. Logically, more pesticide, less disease.

  32. SteveThomas says:

    Wow Really, you must be a super genius to extrapolate that the above poster is a liberal.

  33. herrdirektor says:

    Actually, pesticides do a pretty good job eliminating slugs before they get on fruit and lay eggs.

    1. Mel says:

      And then that same “pesticide” that killed the slug, you ate in your salad.

      1. John Adams says:

        You mean the pesticide that we CAN wash off vs. the eggs that we can’t? I’ll take my chances with bugless fruits and vegetables any day. Pesticides weren’t developed just for the helluvit.

        1. mel says:

          News flash, when you drench produce in chemicals early on in the growing season, the produce “ingests” the chemicals. The chemicals aren’t just sitting on the plants. Plants aren’t like plastic, plants are porous, like our skin, and whatever you put on these plants gets inside the plant. You can’t just wash off the chemicals. In my opinion, pesicides were created for higher yield, not for better quality.
          Although it is very sad that this happened to this young man, and hopefully he will fully recover quickly, this is extrememly rare. How many people actually DIED from eating (non-organic) tainted cantaloupe and spinach in the last few years? This goes back to my original point; organisms and bacteria are everywhere and we can’t 100% avoid them. Take precautions to the best of your ability, whether you eat organic or not.

    1. Krylon says:

      …Me too, I actually sprayed a little bit.

  34. GrumpyOldMan says:

    Just as my generation (most of them, anyway) learned in the 60s, there is no Eden-like Utopia. Want to get back to nature? Well, this IS nature. And you’re welcome to it. There’s a reason for modern agricultural practices, and it isn’t so some 1% Mega-Corp can take our money and give us cancer. The natural world is an extremely tough place to survive. It wasn’t very long ago when people in their 30s where considered old — now most of us live long enough to get cancer (which is a natural byproduct of our flawed biology). All the Hippy fantasy in the world isn’t going to change that.

  35. yarply says:

    I see a government regulation coming on.

    1. cbinflux says:

      BHO will love this opportunity to put organic farmers — IN THE US — out of business. Cloward-Piven must not fail.

    2. cbinflux says:

      BHO welcomes the opportunity to put US farmers out of business!

  36. cbinflux says:

    Is there any doubt that Obama brought this disease to the islands??

    Is it a coincidence that Maryland is fighting the influx of rats from DC??


  37. cbinflux says:


  38. paul says:

    sounds like obamafarming.

  39. Pete says:

    LOL After reading the comments of all the ignorant Monsanto brainwashed yuppie farmers in Minnesota I know why the cancer rates are so high in the mainland. Go ahead and eat your toxic supermarket food. I grow mine for close to nothing in a backyard garden that would put any Minnesota farm to shame. It not only tastes a heck of a lot better, but I don’t have to worry about brain atrophy either.

    1. Yuppie - That's A Compliment to Me says:

      Yeah, well don’t hurt yourself with all that patting yourself on the back..dope

  40. Sabrina says:

    I was excited to see that there were so many comments on this story, but I find it really depressing to be reading 90+ comments arguing about organic vs. non-organic farming rather than well wishes, encouragement, and prayers to Eric. The point of this article is not to support one lifestyle over the other, but to rally support for Eric–someone who continues to put a smile on despite being stricken with this awful disease. Being an agriculturalist myself I have my own opinion, but I will state that both farming methods equally have their pros and cons and all consumers should be making efforts to support our farmers and find out the facts (because non-organic farming does NOT cause cancer) rather than criticizing what they do not completely understand. America continue to has the safest and most accessible food systems in the world and I would hope that you all take a moment to thank an agriculturalist after saying a prayer for Eric.

    1. Welcome to WCCO says:

      Yes Sabrina thanks, prayers for Eric’s recovery!

  41. sharonumbaugh says:

    I live in Hawaii and contracted rat lungworm 1 1/2 yrs. ago. It’s horrible, horrible, painful, painful! Not much is known about it because so few people, if any, have contracted it outside of Hawaii. Money is needed for studies and to raise awareness so others don’t have to go through this. Although my case was not as bad as Eric’s, I have not made a full recovery and probably never will. I live with pain all the time.
    You go Eric! You look and sound SO much better than when you were here!

  42. sharonumbaugh says:

    There are many, many cases in Hawaii that go unreported because doctors don’t recognize the symptoms.

  43. Terrace says:

    Best to stay out of third-world countries.