James Michael, 32, went swimming in Lake Malawi in southeastern Africa with friends two years ago, but had no idea and had no idea a parasitic worm had burrowed itself into his privates.
The worm then laid eggs inside him, which made him gradually so ill that his immune system went into overdrive, triggering it to attack his spine.
He was hospitalised for three months while doctors fought the infection. He was given a 30 percent chance of full recovery from the infection.
He suffered digestive issues and had to use crutches for four months – but thankfully, he’s made a full recovery.
James, from Kensington, central London, said: “When I look back at photos from my time in Africa, it’s weird to think that’s where the parasite crawled up my penis.
“That wasn’t exactly how I imagined the trip of a lifetime with my friends going – the whole experience was surreal and strange.
“This journey has made me definitely think more about my health and about how I look after myself – like reading up on health risks when I travel.
“I would urge anyone thinking of getting into Lake Malawi not to. It’s just not worth the potential risks of a little worm climbing in your body through your parts. It’s a grotesque, sickening thought.
“This has been horrendous. It’s felt like a never-ending mountain I’ve had to climb.”
His friends went away in 2017, travelling from Zambia to Zimbabwe, before going to Malawi for five days.
The group of three swam and canoed for three hours a day every day in Lake Malawi – before heading back to the UK.
“Even though I contracted the infection then, nothing happened and I was able to leave for home thinking nothing was wrong,” he said.
Over a year later, in October 2018, James started to notice a loss of feeling in both his legs, and initially thought it was fatigue from cycling.
It got worse over the course of a few weeks, until it was taking him five minutes to climb up 15 steps to his flat.
He went to hospital in November 2018, and was given antibiotics and sent home, but still felt terrible, and a week later, with the loss of feeling increasing went back to hospital.
“I explained to them that something serious was going on,” he said. “I went to the neurology department, and they did blood tests to see what was up.
“They determined quite quickly that my immune system was attacking my spine, leading to the loss of control of my legs. I was put on a six-month course of steroids to counter this, but they didn’t actually know what had caused this.”
Doctors from the Hospital For Tropical Diseases told James that a parasitic worm had crawled up his penis and laid eggs in his body.
A week before Christmas he was diagnosed with bilharzia – an infection caused by a parasitic worm which lives in fresh water in subtropical and tropical regions – and given suitable medication.
He said: “That killed the infection but I was left basically debilitated. It was a horrible feeling – I felt completely helpless, and the odds weren’t good. I couldn’t wish what I’ve been through on anybody.”
He had to spend three months in hospital using a wheelchair, then four months on crutches, until April, dealing with extreme acne caused by steroids, diarrhoea, and using a catheter because he couldn’t use the loo.
“In January, I couldn’t use the toilet normally, so had to use a catheter. That was quite embarrassing for me because it’s not something you associate with young guys.”
James also lost his appetite and struggled to maintain a sex life with his girlfriend.
He said: “My girlfriend couldn’t hug me because just to touch me hurt and we’ve not been intimate with each other because it’s just too painful for me.
“I’ll certainly think twice before taking a dip in Lake Malawi.”