Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

RFK Jr. says he had parasitic brain worm and undisclosed memory loss

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 30: Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at a Cesar Chavez Day event at Union Station on March 30, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. The 70-year-old candidate is pushing Latino outreach in a long shot Independent bid in the 2024 presidential race. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)  (Mario Tama)
By Meryl Kornfield Washington Post

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the independent presidential candidate who has marketed himself to voters as a younger, healthier alternative to the two major contenders, contracted a parasitic worm that got into his brain years ago and ate a portion of the brain before dying, his campaign said Wednesday.

The 70-year-old scion of the powerful political family revealed in a 2012 deposition during divorce proceedings from his second wife, which the New York Times obtained and first reported Wednesday, that he had short- and long-term memory loss and described himself as having “cognitive problems, clearly.” Around the time of the discovery of the parasite, Kennedy was also diagnosed with mercury poisoning that he attributed to his diet, he said in the deposition, a condition that can also cause memory loss. Kennedy told the Times that he has since recovered from his fogginess.

When asked about the incident, Kennedy campaign spokeswoman Stefanie Spear told The Washington Post that Kennedy contracted a parasite while traveling “extensively in Africa, South America and Asia in his work as an environmental advocate.”

“The issue was resolved more than 10 years ago, and he is in robust physical and mental health,” she said in a written statement. “Questioning Mr. Kennedy’s health is a hilarious suggestion, given his competition.”

Kennedy disclosed in the deposition that consulted with neurologists in 2010 when a friend voiced concerns about his memory loss, according to the Times. He said he was told that a dark spot discovered in his brain scans could be a tumor, a year after his uncle, longtime Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) died of brain cancer. The Post has not independently reviewed the deposition.

But a doctor at New York-Presbyterian Hospital told him the spot could be caused by “a worm that got into my brain and ate a portion of it and then died,” he said in the deposition, according to the Times.

Around the same time, doctors also diagnosed Kennedy with mercury poisoning, which he said was caused by eating a large amount of fish that contained the dangerous heavy metal. Kennedy, an environmental lawyer who has spoken out against mercury and other toxins contaminating food, told the Times that he was eating a diet heavy in tuna and perch at the time.

He told the Times he has since reduced his fish intake and underwent chelation therapy, a treatment to expel metals from the body. He said the parasite in his brain required no treatment.

Medical experts told The Post that descriptions of the parasite appear consistent with Taenia solium, a pork tapeworm, which can cause neurologic symptoms including headaches, convulsions, epileptic seizures and even death when the worm larvae get into the brain. Methylmercury, the organic form of mercury found in fish, can cause speech and hearing impairment, muscle weakness, lack of coordination and other symptoms when people are exposed to high levels.

Kennedy has focused much of his campaign on advocating for regulations on major industries that he says have contributed to the country’s worsening health problems. He also has spread misinformation about vaccines and argued against public health measures enacted during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since he announced he would run for president in April last year, Kennedy has not disclosed his medical records.

Former president Donald Trump and President Biden, who have attempted to quell voters’ concerns about their advanced ages, have released limited health summaries. Biden’s doctor released a six-page summary of medical tests in February, declaring him “fit for duty,” while Trump shared a one-page letter in November from a doctor who belongs to his golf club and said he was in “excellent health.” But the disclosures break from a tradition of presidential candidates previously releasing more complete reports on their health.

Kennedy has previously disclosed other health issues. He has said his strained, sometimes hoarse voice is caused by spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary spasms in the muscles of the voice box. He also has told others he became infected with hepatitis C, which was treated, from intravenous drug use in his youth.

In 2001, Kennedy was hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat caused by a common heart abnormality that can cause strokes, according to news reports at the time. Kennedy said in the 2012 deposition he was hospitalized three other times for that condition, which he told the Times has not caused any other incidents in a decade.

- – -

Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.