Hidden Plague. Forget about SARS.
Lyme disease is spreading steadily, and some
experts say it can elude the standard cure.
J.D. Heyman Joanne Fowler in Frederick
For months no one knew what was happening to Tom Coffey. In the spring of 2001 the then 34-year-old radio dispatcher was struck by high blood pressure and double vision. By summer's end he was suffering from facial palsy, crushing fatigue and joint pain so intense he walked with an old man's shuffle. Medical visits turned up nothing. By October his weight had plummeted 105 lbs., to 202. "My doctor was at the end of his rope," says Coffey. "He kept referring me to different people."
When he awoke unable to swallow his saliva, Coffey rushed to a hospital near his Frederick, Md., home and was given blood tests and brain scans. Doctors returned with a terrifying diagnosis: ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, a degenerative illness likely to kill him within six months. "Tom's dad said, 'I always thought he'd be burying me. Now I'll be burying him,'" says Coffey's wife, Tricia, 35.
Hooked to a feeding tube, Coffey waited to die. But a relative who thought his symptoms might have another cause suggested a trip to Dr. Greg Bach, a suburban Philadelphia Lyme disease specialist. The doctor found something everyone else had missed--a "bulls-eye" rash beneath his patient's hair. Coffey was suffering not from ALS but from a severe case of Lyme, which is spread to humans by tick bites. For most people, Lyme manifests in a rash and flulike symptoms easily treated with antibiotics. Left undiagnosed, however, it can invade the nervous system. "I always thought Lyme was no big deal," says Coffey, who rebounded after taking medication. "But it damn near killed me."
To read the full story and not just this small excerpt go to: www.canlyme.com/people160603.html
June 16, 2003 Vol. 59 No. 23