Hello, my name is Adam Spencer and I have a flesh-eating parasite called Leishmaniasis.

For over a year now, I’ve been battling a flesh-eating parasite… on my face. My girlfriend (now wife!) and I went on a volunteer trip through South America, we got engaged at Machu Picchu, and moved on to live in the jungle, determining my fate. Despite our vigilant efforts to avoid bullet ants, bot flies, poisonous snakes, malaria, and yellow fever, but when I let my guard down for a mere ten minutes at the end of our stay in the Peruvian Amazon, my life would change completely.

I didn’t even notice the affliction for a month, and I wasn’t even deeply concerned for another month after that. From a bug bit grew a small pimple, which grew into a wound, and gradually swelled up and expanded. While volunteering in Bolivia my friends asked me more and more frequently if I was ok, and would suggest that I get the wound checked out.

Upon our return to Oregon, I began working with doctors to figure out this gross growth. After a month of cultures, biopsies and mis-diagnoses, I got a call that said I had leishmaniasis.

When people say that your health is all you have, you never realize how true it is until you are completely at the mercy of illness and medicine. I began to realize that I was in serious trouble and would be dependent upon my doctors and pharmaceutical research to be well again – and eventually, to survive.

This is my story of living with a flesh-eating parasite, and the incredible ups and downs I’ve endured along the way.

17 Replies to “Hello, my name is Adam Spencer and I have a flesh-eating parasite called Leishmaniasis.”

  1. hello Adam.. i had the same disease in my back 14 years ago .. before its gone wild, my parent brought me to natural hot spring and they rub my back with the water everyday for week.. of course i’m cured now. hope this help

  2. I read your story and saw it on Monsters Inside Me, I hope you’re doing well and I’m glad to hear that you’re battling the parasite and the damage its left. I’ll continue to pray for you and I hope you had a amazing wedding.

    1. Hi Lindsey! Thank you for your support. I am doing much better – the wound hasn’t healed completely, but they filmed the show over a year ago, so I’ve healed really well since what they’ve shown. And our wedding was amazing beyond belief. We are doing really well and have appreciated all the support through the ordeal!

  3. Hey Adam,
    I am a Senior at Ithaca College majoring in Environmental Studies. Last Spring I studied abroad in Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica working with amazing nonprofits that focused on environmental and social justice issues. My trip was life changing for me and helped me get direction in life. However, ever since my return in early April I’ve been battling with Leishmaniasis. Luckily, it is the cutaneous kind and the lesion is on leg but it’s still been difficult. Things are looking up though, I finished my second round of treatment last week and it looks a lot better already! Hopefully this is the last round. I just wanted to let you know that I found your story consoling and I agree that although you take a risk while traveling it’s totally worth it! Good luck on your adventures!
    Your fellow leish buddy,


    1. Hi Juliet!
      Solidarity! Sounds like an awesome trip followed up by an interesting biological experience! I hope you have health insurance, though. Best luck finishing your studies and defeating leishlie!

  4. Adam,

    I’m writing to you all the way from Malaysia. I’m a fellow YouTuber just like yourself, I go by the name “Ray Mak”. I work as a nutritionist back here in my country. I treat severe medical conditions including skin diseases using holistic methods. For your case, I suggest that you combined a good dose of Usana’s Proflavanol C-100 into your diet (2 tablets each meal). Combine it with whatever medication that you’re taking and applying now. Although it most probably won’t kill those parasites in your skin (if they are not all gone yet), it will seriously aid in your recovery, this I can promise you. Many of my customers are very active beach goers. They get bitten by sand flies a lot.

    Although in a business point of view, I would hope that you can become my customer, that will be entirely up to you because there are others who distribute this particular supplement as well. I am also not sure if I will be back here to check on your reply, but I know at least I leave you this message in good faith. If you do reply, please reply to my email above. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Please do take a before and after picture if you ever become my customer. I’ll be keeping myself updated with your recovery on YouTube. Check me out too.

    Warmest regards from a stranger,

    Ray Mak

  5. I’m at Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN. I am being tested for Leishmaniasis tomorrow. I’ve been struggling with this for four years. I have been to a third world country & was bitten by a swarm of sand flies. I have had 3 skin lesions on my face. They have some major characteristics that I would like to know if this sounds like what you experienced. starts out ouzzing & almost immediately opens up to a deep pit which within a few days becomes hard because the edges start rolling & twisting up under the edge of the ulcer. This stage is painful & last for months if not a years. nothing has helped. by the time it runs its coarse. there is nothing left. I’ve had a surgery to close the bridge of my nose. I need desperately to know your opinion

    1. Hi Debbie,
      I’m deeply sorry to hear about your affliction. Where were you traveling that you were bitten by sand flies? The nature of the wound does sound similar to my experience. The wound didn’t appear until nearly a month after being bitten. Then it slowly oozed a clear reddish substance before getting larger and larger in the weeks to come. Then it became an open wound and scabbed over. If you have not been tested for leishmaniasis yet, what other diagnoses have you received? Doctors initially thought staph infection, MRSA, and cutaneous anthrax for my wound. Leishmaniasis is not a common diagnosis in the US so it’s easy for the doctors to look over. It may take a while to determine if it is leishmaniasis, but it sounds like in your advanced state it should be quick. Do you have lesions in your throat or nasal passages? Leishmaniasis on the face is usually the mucocutaneous variety, which I had. There are new drugs such as miltefosine and another drug that has been working really well in India. Best of luck! Please don’t hesitate to contact me with more questions.

  6. Hi! I just had a couple of questions for you. I am planning a trip to Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Leishmaniasis is a real fear for me since there’s no prevention for it really. I noticed you said, “…when I let my guard down for a mere ten minutes at the end of our stay in the Peruvian Amazon, my life would change completely.” What exactly happened? Was this on your hike on the Inca Trail or in a different area? What guard did you have up that you let down at the end of your stay in Peru? Sorry to bombard you with questions, but whenever I do a search for this disease and Peru, you are the person who pops up the most. Thank you and I hope everything has improved since your initial issues with it.

    1. I am not sure if you can get leishmaniasis from the high elevation of the Inca Trail hike. I got it on the border between Peru and Bolivia on the Heath river. I let my guard down for ten minutes by spending time on the actual sand of the riverbank, where the sand flies live. I was not dressed in covering clothes, had no bug spray, and was photographing butterflies lying down on the sand instead of focussing on waving the flies away and preventing them from landing. Bug spray is effective at preventing contraction, as well as avoiding the riverbanks in the lower elevation jungle, which I failed to do in the lapse of judgement. I’m glad I can serve to introduce you to the diseases of Peru! Or at least that you are aware of this little nasty bugger. But I wouldn’t worry too much up at Machu Picchu. It is too high and cold for the tropical bugs. I can’t remember any mosquitos or really any buzzing insects up there between 8,000 and 14,000 feet. Enjoy the hike! You should consider booking with local businesses like InfoCusco and InkaNatura so the money from your adventure stays within the local economy instead of an international business.

  7. Hi Adam my name is natalie, after living I Costa Rica for a while on the Caribe coast in puerto viejo I had to return to the states due, to a home invasion with a man with a gun who beat me and stole everything. After a week being back in the states I started realizing something I thought was nothing . It in my armpit, I thought it was a ingrown hair about 2 and a half weeks ago while I was still in costa. Now it has ulcered over blistered and is spreading. Down where I lived we call it papalomoyo. I’ve seen it first hand with indigenous children I worked with within the Bri bri tribe and with some other locals down there. I’m going to the doctors Monday but what treatments helped you? I know there are different strains of it depending in the location, but finding information on the internet is not really being all that helpful. Having to come back to central upstate NY it’s hard to tract down a tropical medics specialist and seeing the consequences of the drugs and anti parasital agents seems very scary. I knew locals who claim they where healed through so called local “witchdoctors”. I would just live some more inside information so I know what possibly I will have to prepare myself for. Thanks a lot and cheers !

    es leichminiacis si es una enfermedad grave pero te felicito porque tambien en colombia hubo ese caso con un amigo mio pero de suerte no le fue grave pero si esta excelente tu pagina enserio me gusta tu pagina

  9. My partner and I spent time in the Equador Amazon Basin last February. Mid March we both had nodules running down the left side of our trunks. I painted mine with clear nail polish (a remedy I learned as a child to kill chiggers) and they disappeared in about a week. My partner’s lesions grew and grew and finally, on Sept. 9 the CDC diagnosed them as Cutaneous Leishmaniasis Braziliensis. They look awful and ooze like your face did. Three of the lesions on his thigh grew into one, and is now several inches in diameter. He is considering treatment with Ambisome. We can’t find much info, and the infectious disease doc recommended I get tested since I could have Subclinical (Asymmptomatic) Leish. Just wondering if anyone has any recommendations, resources or advice before he proceeds. Thanks

  10. Hi Adam,

    Was hoping to use one of your photos in a major academic journal review on leishmaniasis as an example of CL. It would only be the lesion, not your face :). Please get in touch if this is possible.

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