RFK Jr. claims doctor said parasite 'ate' part of his brain

Robert Kennedy Jr. campaigns for President of the United States at a rally on April 28, 2024 in Holbrook, Long Island, New York. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

(WASHINGTON) -- Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s campaign on Wednesday responded to a New York Times report that described an incident where the independent candidate claimed a doctor told him that a parasitic worm was found in his brain more than a decade ago.

In a 2012 deposition during a divorce from his second wife, Kennedy revealed that a doctor found a dead parasite in his brain -- one of multiple health conditions Kennedy said may have caused what he described in the deposition as "cognitive problems" he had experienced at the time, according to according to The New York Times.

In a statement, Kennedy spokeswoman Stefanie Spear said the candidate contracted a parasite during his travel as an environmental advocate -- likely when he visited either Africa, South America or Asia.

"The issue was resolved more than 10 years ago, and he is in robust physical and mental health," Spear said. "Questioning Mr. Kennedy's health is a hilarious suggestion, given his competition."

Kennedy, 70, who is working to gain ballot access nationwide, is aiming to run against two of the oldest people to ever run for president: 81-year-old President Joe Biden and the presumptive Republican nominee, 77-year-old former President Donald Trump.

Doctors interviewed by ABC News say that the parasitic brain infection he described could cause a wide range of health problems, but the health impacts can also be relatively limited and short-lived for most people.

These types of infections are more common in lower-income countries, but in the United States they lead to an estimated 2,000 hospitalizations per year, according to the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The parasite was discovered in 2010, when doctors scanning his brain concluded that a cyst there contained the remains of a parasite, Kennedy said, according to the New York Times.

In the deposition, the contents of which ABC News has not independently verified, Kennedy cited a doctor who told Kennedy he believed a parasite had eaten part of his brain before dying. Doctors interviewed by ABC News clarified that these types of parasites don't actually eat brain tissue. Rather, they absorb nutrients passively before dying.

According to doctors interviewed by ABC News, an infection like this could lead to seizures, which could potentially cause short-lived memory problems as Kennedy described, but most patients would mount a full recovery. The health impact would all depend on the specific location of the parasite within the brain, and many other factors related to a person's health history.

However, the parasite is not the only medical issue Kennedy revealed in the deposition, as the Times reported he disclosed he had contracted mercury poisoning, something he attributed to a diet heavy on fish.

This is also plausible, according to doctors interviewed by ABC News. Similarly, mercury poisoning could potentially lead to cognitive issues, but in most cases, those issues are short-lived and a person can make a full recovery.

Spear did not address the poisoning in her statement to ABC News. She also did not respond to a request to share Kennedy's medical records.

Later Wednesday, RFK Jr. tried to make light of the news about the parasitic worm.

"I offer to eat 5 more brain worms and still beat President Trump and President Biden in a debate," he posted on X.

Thursday, May 9, 2024 at 6:22AM by Will McDuffie, Sony Salzman, and Nicholas Kerr, ABC News Permalink