While on a missionary trip to Florida with 17 other boys from his church, Michael Dumas decided to hit Pompano Beach for a day of relaxation on June 18. But as Michael and his friends would soon discover, their day at the beach would soon haunt them for weeks.
Soon after 17-year-old Michael returned home to Memphis, Tennessee, he developed a painful earache that was followed by the appearance of rashes on his feet. When red bumps developed on other areas of his body, Michael’s mother, Kelli Mulhollen Dumas, took him to the family pediatrician. That’s when they made a startling discovery: Michael was infected by hookworms.
“I’m a dentist, and I have a degree in biology — I have dissected things. Science is my gig,” Kelli tells PEOPLE. “But hearing your son has parasitic worms inside of his body and that they’re replicating and growing? As a mother, my stomach tightened up into a big tight ball and started flipping around. I thought I was going to throw up.”
Horrifyingly enough — among the multiple hookworms that were found buried beneath Michael’s skin — doctors found one that measured three-inches in length.
“I just had this vision of hookworms making babies inside my baby’s body!” Kelli recalls. “I was just so upset.”
Hookworms are parasites that are typically spread to other humans through the fecal matter of an infected person, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If the contaminated feces are left on the ground after someone defecates, hookworm larvae can then penetrate the skin of those who come in contact with it, such as when someone walks across the ground with their bare feet.
Recalling the trip to the beach, Michael told his mother that at one point he was buried in the sand by his friends, and it is there that Kelli believes her son was infected by the parasites.
Since then, five other members of the missionary team who visited Pompano Beach have tested positive for hookworms, Kelli says.
Over the last few weeks, Michael has been given a series of medications to treat the infection. Michael also went through a painful cryotherapy session to help rid himself of the parasites.
“The doctor started on his left foot, between his toes,” Kelli says. “That’s when Michael told her that he could feel the worms moving inside of his body trying to get away as she was torching them. That was disgusting.”
Kelli has since shared photos of her son’s infection to Facebook to help raise awareness about the importance of wearing footwear in public spaces. Her post on July 20 has received more than 7,000 shares and thousands of comments.
According to the CDC, severe hookworm infections can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue and anemia. If a young child is infected, their physical and cognitive growth can also be affected. The agency recommends that people refrain from walking barefoot in areas where there could be possible fecal contamination.
Today, Michael is battling a staph infection and can’t leave his home. With his sister’s wedding ceremony approaching in the coming weeks, the family doesn’t know if Michael will be able to participate as a groomsman if he doesn’t recover by then. All they can do, Kelli says, is ask for prayers to be sent his way.
“My son is going to have permanent scars from this. He has a gaping wound on his right foot. He has four sutures. This is not a joke,” she says. “This is beyond any scope, I never dreamed this is something that would happen.”