Minnesotans go to Hawaii to relax, get some sun and take in a little bit of paradise.
But a Minnesota man went there and came back with a paralyzing disease. Eric Reinert, 23, is a former state wrestling champion from Watertown-Mayer High School. But a year ago, every nerve in his body was in pain.
Working as an assistant with the University of Minnesota softball team is not what Reinert envisioned when he was a stand-out wrestler in high school. Considering what he’s been through, he’s ecstatic to be here.
“It’s just a surreal thing to imagine that that was me a year ago,” said Reinert.
A year ago Reinert weighed 50 pounds less and like a child, was learning to walk all over again. It was baby steps for reading books and computer screens too. Yet even that was progress compared to where Eric was in November of 2011.
“The pain was kind of unimaginable,” said Reinert.
Reinert was working on a farm in Hawaii’s Puna District, learning to become an organic farmer. Two weeks into the program, he got sick and what followed was incredible pain. His nervous system became hypersensitive to the point where the tiniest vibrations sparked discomfort. It happened even when his roommates would walk by while Reinert was lying on his bed.
“I could feel them walking, shooting vibrations up through me. I couldn’t feel comfortable in any position,” said Reinert.
After a few days, a doctor diagnosed him with Rat Lungworm Disease. Extremely rare and as nasty as it sounds, it can only be found in that part of Hawaii. And it comes from a microscopic parasite in a rat.
Something as simple as eating an unwashed strawberry may have been how Reinert contracted the disease.
“The Honolulu newspaper interviewed me and said I might be the only person on the mainland of America that has ever gotten it,” said Reinert.
That shows just how unlucky Reinert was, but his luck has changed. Despite occasional pain and discomfort in his right leg, Reinert is nearing a full recovery.
He’s back in Minnesota finishing school at the University of Minnesota, where he’s now pitching batting practice to the softball team.
“He challenges them. He’s confident in there and he challenges the hitters,” said pitching coach Piper Ritter.
From baby steps to throwing 65 mile an hour fastballs underhand, Reinert credits his family, friends and God for where he is today.
When we talked to him last year he promised he’d recover, and it was a promise he kept.
“That’s what I remember when we last talked was I’m going to get better. And that attitude and that drive to want to get better is what helped me get better,” said Reinert.
Reinert plays men’s fastpitch softball in the summer and last summer, he was able to do some of that, though he said running was still difficult.
He said he will graduate from the U of M next spring, and he still plans on pursuing a career in horticulture.