Rare Health Issues RFK Jr. Has Dealt With (Including A Parasitic Brain Worm)

There are plenty of ways a politician vying for a presidential nomination could find themselves in the headline, but having the remains of a dead, brain-eating worm found in your skull is undoubtedly one of the most memorable. Such was the unfortunate case for Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., son of the late Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of former president John F. Kennedy.

Around the same time doctors discovered a cyst containing the remnants of a parasitic worm in his brain, the presidential hopeful was diagnosed with mercury poisoning. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, most U.S. diagnoses of mercury poisoning can be traced back to the overconsumption of fish containing methylmercury.

Additionally, Kennedy Jr. has been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a rare condition in which the heart struggles to pump blood completely through the body. This can increase someone's risk of a stroke and cause exhaustion and vertigo-related symptoms. Sadly, not even this laundry list of uncommon diagnoses covers all of the health concerns Kennedy Jr. has faced over the years.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s unique voice is caused by a rare neurological disorder

Without a myriad of medical tech equipment, one would likely never know about Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s cardiovascular, mercurial, or parasitic health concerns. But one particular disorder is more readily detectable — more specifically, audible — than the others: his spasmodic dysphonia. Spasmodic dysphonia is an incredibly rare neurological disorder that affects the ability of the larynx, or voice box, to phonate properly.

This condition is the source of Kennedy's rare voice, which has a raspy timbre that trembles even when speaking firmly and clearly. In a June 2023 interview with NewsNation, Kennedy said he hadn't lived with this disorder his entire life. He recalled having a strong voice that could speak to large rooms with no amplification up until his early 40s, after which his vocal quality began to deteriorate rapidly. Kennedy told NewsNation he had never considered his voice was being affected by spasmodic dysphonia until he received letters from audience members of his public speaking events that suggested he see a laryngeal specialist.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, spasmodic dysphonia is a rare condition that most commonly affects people between the ages of 30 and 50. While some research suggests the disorder is caused by abnormal brain functioning, more research is still required to get a better understanding of the disease.

Kennedy Jr.'s parasitic worm was first revealed in a 2012 divorce deposition

Robert F. Kennedy's alarming plight with a parasite first began in 2010, when his chronic memory loss and brain fog became so troublesome that friends believed he might have a brain tumor. The true cause of his neurological symptoms was revealed in a 2012 deposition during his divorce from Mary Richardson Kennedy, to whom he was married two years before marrying "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star Cheryl Hines. At the time, he argued his health condition had significantly affected his ability to earn a steady income.

"I have cognitive problems, clearly," Kennedy admitted in the deposition (via the New York Times). "I have short-term memory loss, and I have a longer-term memory loss that affects me." He later said the parasitic worm, which had already died, required no treatment. When the NYT asked Kennedy's campaign team if this could affect the candidate's viability for the presidency, spokeswoman Stefanie Spear replied, "That is a hilarious suggestion, given the competition."

Indeed, Kennedy Jr. doesn't seem worried about these health issues, particularly in relation to his competitors, incumbent President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, from whom Kennedy once said he was proud to receive praise. "I offer to eat 5 more brain worms and still beat President Trump and President Biden in a debate," Kennedy tweeted in early May 2024. For the sake of all of our stomachs, we really hope he doesn't.