This summer, beware the microscopic creepers with a craving for flesh.
Whether or not it is fully respected or understood in the medical community, Lyme disease is very real, with literally life-changing repercussions.
Chances are, most people living in northeast Pennsylvania long enough have had run-ins with ticks, maybe even having to pry one off every now and again.
What may not be so obvious are the crushing effects that can result from a tick infected with Lyme disease, which can turn life upside down.
Take Molly Henn, 18, for example.
Many recognize Henn as the Wyoming County Fair Queen from 2013 - a junior at Tunkhannock Area High School.
Back in 2011, Henn returned from a vacation on Assateague Island, Md., to find what is commonly referred to as a ‘bullseye’ rash on her leg.
“I never saw or felt a tick,” Henn said. “And when I went to the doctor, they told me it was ringworm.”
But, after two weeks using medication to treat ringworm, the tell-tale signs of Lyme persisted - headaches, joint pain and swelling, constant fatigue - and Henn returned to the hospital for a blood test. Sure enough, the results came back positive.
“They put me on a medication and it’s great - it works - but, just because I lost that one month, my symptoms didn’t go away,” Henn said. “I can have these symptoms for the rest of my life.” A doctor’s misdiagnosis, in this instance, propelled Henn into years of treatment to follow which, in turn, affected her ability to function as a high-schooler.
“It has stopped me from doing many things because there are so many limitations with it,” Henn said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize how serious it can be.”
In a matter of months, she had to quit dance, soccer, swimming, skiing, and had to forfeit her passion for riding horses.
Henn wound up in the hospital with two blood clots earlier this year, and noticed her grades beginning to slip in school. “There were days when I couldn’t talk - your head just changes, and it can get very difficult to concentrate,” Henn said. “I take a nap every day because I can’t get through the day without it.”
It wasn’t long before she found herself homebound and unable to complete a full day of school, due to intense migraines and overall fatigue.
With the help of her teachers, Henn was able to work out a homeschooling regimen that kept her on track for her upcoming senior year, but if it weren’t for her positive attitude, she would surely be facing a more dismal forecast.
After several years of what was diagnosed as ‘Post-Lyme disease,’ Henn and her family finally found a Lyme specialist in upstate New York that seemed to fit the bill for a recovery plan. Though his practice is a three hour drive - each way - for Henn and her family, the results have been evident, and she feels she’s on track to make a full recovery.
“You’ll have it in your body forever, but you can be Lyme-free,” Henn said.
To deal with the Lyme now, Henn has been outfitted with a long-term IV - a constant feed through her dominant arm that works to slowly rid her body of symptoms.
While the IV presents another challenge in that she can’t lift more than five-pounds with her dominant arm, thereby eliminating the chance to work, Henn feels confident that it is the missing piece to her Lyme puzzle.
On top of the IV and some oral medication, Henn also focuses on a healthy-diet that won’t feed the disease, particularly in her efforts to go gluten-free and sugar-free.
“I try to keep my immune system healthy with a lot of vitamins and supplements so I don’t end up coming down with something else for my immune system to fight off,” Henn said.
Still, like many people afflicted with the debilitating disease, Henn believes the medical community could be doing more to help people.
“If I had been treated that first time, I wouldn’t be who I am right now,” Henn said. “I always say, ‘There are doctors that believe in Lyme and doctors that don’t.’” And if you just happen to have a doctor that doesn’t ‘believe’ in Lyme, you could find your life completely uprooted.
Luckily for Henn, as a high-schooler, her schedule is much more flexible and she is able to work around the disease, but for those already in the full-swing of adult life, the outlook isn’t as manageable.
“I try to stay positive, because it’s changed my life and there’s really nothing I can do about it except work through it,” Henn said. “I feel like I can go through anything now.”
She added, “I know that one day I will definitely be better and I will be able to live my life the way I should.”