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2018-03-13 / Front Page

Delaware County Residents: Life With Lyme

By Rosie Cunningham


Heidi Feltman (left), an East Meredith resident, was diagnosed with Lyme disease three years ago in June. She poses with longtime friend and colleague Ellen Moser. 
Contributed Photo Heidi Feltman (left), an East Meredith resident, was diagnosed with Lyme disease three years ago in June. She poses with longtime friend and colleague Ellen Moser. Contributed Photo NEW YORK - Sometimes, you know when you’ve been bitten - a clear, perfect bull’s eye shape tattoos your skin. However, many times victims remain unaware and in either case, Lyme disease can take root - first in the body then - over your life.

The disease is a bacterial infection primarily transmitted by Ixodes ticks, also known as deer ticks on the East coast.

Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete—a corkscrewshaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme is called “the great imitator” because its symptoms mimic so many other diseases. It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain, nervous system, muscles, joints and heart.

Heidi Feltman was diagnosed with Lyme nearly three years ago. Her first symptoms were chronic fatigue, memory loss and slight aches and pains. During this time, the South Kortright Central School sixth grade teacher lost 55 pounds.

“I had quit drinking (alcohol) not long before I was diagnosed,” said Feltman. “I expected to feel better, but I felt terrible.”

Feltman underwent a series of tests, including two Western Blot Tests - which checks for Lyme. Results were negative in both cases.

Finally, Natasha Ruiz, a specialist at the Stram Center for Integrative Medicine in Delmar, diagnosed Feltman with the disease.

“I had a bull’s eye about eight years ago and I didn’t think anything of it,” she admitted. “I wish I had.”

After treating the East Meredith resident with probiotics to improve her gut health, she was inundated with a series of antibiotics which included Doxycycline, as well as an antibiotic which is also used to treat malaria patients. Over the ensuing months, the antibiotics were changed four times. Doctors were determined to find pairings that would help improve Feltman’s symptoms. There were also multiple vitamins, more probiotics and supplements.

Oftentimes when a new supplement or antibiotic is introduced, a patient’s body will “herx” causing the patient to feel either mildly or monumentally worse.

“The worse you feel often means the medicines are working and attacking the bacteria,” said Feltman of the double-edged sword.

Feltman, 50, said her worst symptom, aside from memory loss, was and still is, fatigue.

“I slept for hours and sometimes I couldn’t work,” she said. “I couldn’t get out of bed and if I did, I would feel so cloudy.”

Feltman said some of her coworkers, her husband Nate and her daughter Emily, were her biggest supporters.

“I couldn’t do much as far as my home life went, but the silver lining was that my husband totally stepped up when I was at my worst.”

Each month, even with the support of some health care coverage, medicines and supplements could cost up to $500.

“It’s disgraceful that long-term Lyme support is not covered or recognized by the CDC,” she said. “I have some health care coverage, at least for the doctor’s visits. If an individual or family does not have enough income, they wouldn’t be able to afford the cost to get better.”

And then there are other obstacles - called co-infectors - which also require a specialist’s diagnosis and attack just as viciously as the disease.

“One challenge is that every Lyme patient is different,” said Feltman. “My disease can be completely different than another person’s disease and they may have a multiple or different co-infector.”

For John Lamport, a dairy farm owner out of Hobart, his co-infectors severely impact his balance and coordination. Each and every day, he must be mindful of his movements. Usually, when someone drops something on the floor, they simply bend over to pick it up. Lamport, 45, must consciously think about his movements or he will literally fall on his face. His initial Lyme symptoms included achy muscles and joints and fatigue, symptoms he attributed to long hours and daily physical labor on his family-owned farm.

But vertigo, balance and coordination issues and a 30-pound weight loss on his already slim form gave him pause. He endured many tests, CT scans and MRIs. Doctors initially suspected Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease. Almost as an afterthought, he was tested for Lyme and his blood work came back positive - although he never saw a bull’s eye or had a tick.

Feltman said diet drastically effects how she feels day-to-day.

“If I eat too much sugar, I feel awful for the next couple of days,” she said. “Also, stress can make you feel worse, hormone changes and overdoing it in general. I do notice that if it is a nice, sunny day, I don’t feel as bad.”

A couple of months ago, thanks to tests conducted to monitor the Lyme disease, Feltman said it was discovered that she had mercury in her system.

“It was poisoning me. I had all of my old fillings replaced,” she said.

Lamport feels better, also, after visiting the costly Stram Center - and after more than a year of steady medication. At one point, he ingested about 20 pills a day, which included four antibiotics. Like Feltman, sugar and his diet severely impact how he feels day-to-day. His energy levels have drastically improved, however his balance and coordination have not and may never.

Today, Feltman said she feels better than she has in nearly three years.

“I can go days and feel great,” she said. “But, then suddenly, I can just go down. Sadly, you’re just happy you feel better sometimes. However, this is happening not as often as it used to. The disease will always be in me - dormant at times, but can always come out of remission. I have to stay positive and be mindful about how I eat and how I feel.”

According to www.lyme.org, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease in the U.S. every year. That’s 1.5 times the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer, and six times the number of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS each year. However, because diagnosing Lyme can be difficult, many people who actually have Lyme may be misdiagnosed. Many experts believe the true number of cases is much higher.

Patients with Lyme disease are frequently misdiagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and various psychiatric illnesses, including depression. Misdiagnoses often delay the correct diagnosis and treatment while the underlying infection progresses unchecked.

Once a tick has attached, if left undisturbed, it may feed for several days. The longer it stays attached, the more likely it will transmit Lyme and other pathogens into your bloodstream, although not all ticks are infected. Within endemic areas, there is considerable variation in tick infection rates depending on the habitat, presence of wildlife and other factors. Tick infection rates can vary from 0 percent to more than 70 percent in the same area. This uncertainty about how many ticks are infected makes it hard to predict the risk of Lyme disease in a given region.

Lyme Disease is most prevalent in Pennsylvania, but New York has the second-most recorded cases and the number is growing.

If you find a tick attached to yourself or a loved one, or spy a bull’s eye, safely remove and retrieve the tick (see www.lyme.org to see specific instructions) and submit the specimen to your local public health office (Delaware County Department of Public Health) along with a fee of $100.

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