Big Isle parasite victims emerge from their comas


POSTED: Saturday, March 21, 2009
This story has been corrected. See below.

Two people who contracted rat lungworm disease have emerged from comas, and a third has recovered enough to walk and live at home on the Big Island, relatives and friends said.

Silka Strauch, 38, a yoga instructor hospitalized since Dec. 8, has emerged from her coma enough to respond to friends and her parents, her friend Kristina Mauak said.

Graham McCumber, 24, a construction worker, is conscious and able to track people with his eyes.

“;We're kind of excited. He's looking more responsive,”; McCumber's uncle Geoff Rauch said.

Strauch and McCumber, both at Hilo Medical Center, are still breathing with assistance from a machine.

Strauch's friend Zsolt Halda, who also contracted the disease, said he is walking and is living at his home in East Hawaii but is unable to work in his garden for longer than 30 minutes and suffers from extreme itching because of nerve damage.

Rat lungworm disease is an affliction of the brain and spinal cord contracted through consuming parasites sometimes found in slugs. Bacterial infection can occur when the parasites die in the person. Symptoms can include severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, neck stiffness and other problems related to the brain and spinal cord.

State officials said six probable cases of the illness occurred in 2008, and all of them were Big Island residents who regularly ate fresh raw vegetables from backyard gardens.

The state Department of Health has reminded the public to wash produce thoroughly to help prevent exposure to pesticides, bacteria and parasites that can cause the disease.

Strauch's parents, Ralph and Gisela Strauch, want to take their daughter back to their home in Germany, where they hope she can receive physical therapy, Mauak said.

U.S. Customs officials have granted the Strauchs until July 5 to raise enough money to take their daughter back to Dresden, Germany.

Mauak said Strauch's parents are retired and living on a meager income.

“;They don't have the money to travel,”; she said. “;The father is half blind.”;

Halda said Silka, who lived on the Big Island for nine years, hoped to establish a center for meditation.

“;Her vision was to have a place where people could come and have a peaceful retreat,”; he said.

Donations for the Strauchs can be made out to Gisela Strauch, c/o Kristina Mauak, mailed to HC2 Box 6814, Keaau, HI 96749; or call 936-9482.





        » Rat lungworm disease is contracted through consuming parasites sometimes found in slugs. Bacterial infection can occur when the parasites die in the person. An article about the rat lungworm disease published on Page 1 of the Hawaii section Saturday incorrectly listed consumption of bacteria as a cause.