Lyme sufferers struggle for diagnosis, treatment

Robert Mangelsdorf — Westender October 29, 2014

It started as an odd twitch in her bicep, then a tingling numbness in her face. Soon, Kitsilano mother Susan Schirk’s toes began cramping up so severely, she couldn’t unclench them. Then the cramping spread to her arms.

“I couldn’t hold up a blowdryer,” she says. “I would wash the dishes and I would get a cascading numbness and buzzing all down my body.”

Despite the seriousness of her condition, it would take Schirk more than two years and a visit to specialist in the U.S. to get a correct diagnosis for her condition: Lyme disease.

In the meantime, the once successful real estate agent had to walk away from her business, and could no longer pick up her child.

Lyme disease is caused by an infection of the Borrelia bacteria, often spread through tick bites.

In its early stages, symptoms include fatigue, fever, and a rash, and can usually be cleared up with a round of antibiotics.

However, if an infection initially manages to go unnoticed, symptoms can become more serious, including nerve pain, motor impairment, arthritis, and cognitive issues like short-term memory loss. It also becomes harder to treat, and more costly.

Schirk has been on IV and antibiotic cocktail for two years. So far, her treatment has cost her family more than $20,000 for antibiotics, private medical consultations, travel expenses, supplements, and probiotics to help build up her immune system.

“The only support I received from our medical system was the offer of sleeping pills and pain killers,” she says.

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