MOORHEAD — A Moorhead High School sophomore is dealing with a rare eye disease because a microscopic parasite infected him after a swim in an area lake.

Getting back onto the ice and practicing with his hockey teammates may be the best thing to happen to 15-year-old Rylan Hasbargen since his infection.

Off the ice, it has been a whirlwind of medical appointments for something most of people only hear about on the news.

"They knew it was an infection; they weren't sure what (it was)," said Rylan Hasbargen's mother, Katie Hasbargen. "We thought it was pink-eye."

Rylan Hasbargen was waking up with pain and discomfort in his eye.

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"(It was) to the point it was swollen shut completely, and he couldn't seen out of that eye at all," Katie Hasbargen said.

Fargo eye specialists saw him and figured out that he needed to go to the University of Minnesota as soon as possible.

"We got a call from them and they said, 'get down here tonight,'" his mother recalled. "We had 15 doctors to look at him because it is such a rare thing."

An image of Hasbargen's eye, taken by doctos at the University of Minnesota. The arrow is pointing to where the amoeba has taken up residence, causing swelling and irritation. Submitted photo.
An image of Hasbargen's eye, taken by doctos at the University of Minnesota. The arrow is pointing to where the amoeba has taken up residence, causing swelling and irritation. Submitted photo.

The eye problem started in September after the family had been at a lake. When Rylan Hasbargen went in the water, he didn't take his contacts out. That was when an amoeba or parasite found an opportunity to make itself at home in his eye.

Only people with contacts can become infected because the parasite uses the plastic in the contact to get into the eye. The parasites can attach to contact lenses in any fresh water, including baths or showers.

The parasite is currently still in his eye.

"Every time it (the parasite) wakes up, I get that weird pain and it swells up, and when it is not awake, it is just there," Rylan Hasbargen said.

It seems to crazy to think that this amoeba-driven disease could be caught simply from jumping into a lake.

"We have all had contacts and taken a shower with them in or jumped in the lake, and you don't think anything of it. What is the worst that can happen? Get an eye infection, right? Apparently, it is worse than that," said Rylan Hasbargen's father, Brady Hasbargen.

The goal now is to get enough eyedrops on the reproducing parasite to kill it for good.

"That is the crazy part — you want the guys (parasites) to move around so the drops can kill them," Brady Hasbargen said.

From Rylan Hasbargen's parents' perspective, their teenager has handled the situation like a champion.

"His take on the whole thing, has been, 'I have two eyes, it is not a brain tumor, it is not a lot of things,'" Brady Hasbargen said.

Rylan Hasbargen wears lucky number "7" for the Moorhead Hockey team, and he has an army of hockey siblings looking up to him. Now he is back on the ice and getting a little puck-time and relief from the stress of the unknown.

"When I go out with them, it feels like I am normal again, a little bit," Rylan Hasbargen said.

Doctors have told him this type of parasite is not known to get into the brain like some killer amoebas, so he and his family are thankful for that.