A Perth couple, who built a successful personal wellbeing business, had their own health and happiness ripped from them by a debilitating parasite, that buried itself deep inside their intestines, during a family holiday to Thailand.
Stacey Barnes, 32, and her husband Ryan Prigg, 39, have spent the past two years fighting off a bug they picked up in a Thai food court, during the luxury family getaway in 2017.
This parasite wreaked havoc on their bodies, leaving them feeling “like zombies”, unable to get out of bed and eventually forcing them to close their booming motivational business.
TIME FOR A BREAK
The devoted parents of a six-year-old daughter and two-year-old son, are the founders of Stacey And Ryan, an online business that offers weight loss and lifestyle programs for thousands of women around Australia.
By the start of 2017 the pair decided they were financially stable enough to take a family holiday to Thailand.
“We figured this could be the perfect opportunity for us to travel around, try something that we love and experienced the world on our terms,” Stacey told news.com.au.
The young family departed Perth in July for a three-week “working holiday” in a six-star accommodation in Kata Beach.
But they would barely last seven days in the popular Southeast Asian country.
THE FOOD COURT VISIT
According to Stacey, the first few days in Kata Beach were “heaven” with sightseeing, hiking and swimming in their private pool attached to their villa.
“Everything was perfect, we didn’t eat on the streets or go anywhere risky, everything seemed perfect,” she said.
During a trip to Phuket, Stacey and Ryan decided to drop into an up-market shopping centre and grab a bite to eat.
“They had this pristine food court, it looked just like a brand new one in Australia would, it wasn’t a dingy place at all,” Stacey said.
They ordered pad thai — a popular Thai stir-fried noodle dish — for about $ 6 a plate and devoured it.
“It was so good, we actually ordered another one,” she recalled.
SOMETHING WASN’T RIGHT
Back at the hotel that night, they suddenly started feeling extremely ill.
“Ryan and I both came down with fevers, we knew something wasn’t right,” Stacey said.
“It was really cold in the hotel room and I was sweating and had the shakes, it was just terrible.”
What they didn’t know then, was the tiny parasite — known as Dientamoeba fragilis — had buried itself in their intestines, and would soon destroy their health and the business they had worked so hard to build.
As Stacey and Ryan’s health continued to deteriorate that evening, the couple made the decision to pack up their family and “get out of there”.
“We had our kids to think about and we just freaked out, we couldn’t look after them if we both got really sick so we had to leave,” Stacey said.
They paid for the next flight out of the country and returned home, gravely ill and more frantic than ever to find out what was wrong with them.
‘ONE OF THE HARDEST TIMES OF OUR LIVES’
When the couple returned to Perth, their symptoms dramatically escalated.
“Some days, I would suddenly become extremely bloated after eating something small, my stomach would just be enormous,” Stacey said.
“We developed cold sores all over our face and ulcers all through our mouths.”
The parasite — now securely lodged in their digestive tracts — left the pair suffering either severe constipation or extreme diarrhoea, which made eating or going out difficult.
Stacey also experienced major brain fog, describing months where she couldn’t remember a single thing, walking through life “like a zombie”.
“I had no memory, I was really foggy and couldn’t retain any information, it was as if I was in a permanent fog,” she said.
As a family who rarely fell ill, and prided themselves on eating clean and exercising regularly, this sudden turn of events caught them totally off guard.
“We were also so rundown that we got progressively worse over time and picked up every illness that was going around,” she said.
“It got the point where I was so tired that I didn’t want to get out of bed, which was hard when you have two children to look after.”
Desperate to regain their health, they visited three different doctors who could not identify the cause of their fatigue, all telling them: “You’ll just have to learn to live with it.”
This lacklustre advice left Stacey even more distressed than before.
“I thought to myself, ‘If I have to live with this, it’s not worth living at all’ because this was not OK,” she said.
“I was moving around, knowing that this thing was living inside of me, depleting me of energy and my life force.”
The mum-of-two said her incessant fatigue was a “constant reminder that there was something inside, living off of me”.
After 10 months and no change in symptoms, the couple made the devastating decision to close down their online business.
“We had to go and find alternative incomes because we were desperate,” Stacey said.
“I was parenting, we were trying to keep our business alive, and I was working full-time every day with this parasite inside of me.”
She described this period of time as feeling like they were just putting “one foot in front of the other” to survive.
In November 2018, Stacey and Ryan finally found a doctor who specialised in intestinal parasites and this was when they finally found answers.
They were diagnosed with Dientamoeba fragilis and prescribed strong courses of antibiotics, blood transfusions, vitamin supplements and probiotics.
Stacey described their recovery as “a complete transformation”.
“Once we had the infusion, it was like someone had switched us back on and we were ourselves again,” she said.
Now working on building their business back up, Stacey said they had decided their next trip would probably be to Europe.
“We won’t go back to Asian countries again, but I want people to be aware that these things can and do happen,” she said.
“People get Bali belly and come home and think its all good, but that changes your entire gut bacteria for the rest of your life.”
Stacey encouraged people who aren’t feeling well after a trip abroad to get checked out immediately.
“This had a massive impact on our family and changed the course of our life forever,” she said. “I don’t think people realise how much a parasite can effect your everyday life.”
Continue the conversation @Rhi_lani or email firstname.lastname@example.org