EUGENE, Ore. – Mark Heitchue has lived with chronic Lyme disease for more than 40 years. His road to recovery has been long and difficult. Heitchue was bitten by a Lyme-infected tick when he was seven. But he says it was not until his 20s that he started feeling the symptoms: severe tissue pain, fatigue, and cognitive issues like memory loss and slurred speech.
With spring right around the corner, it is a good time to think about protecting yourself against ticks and the potentially life-threatening disease they may be carrying: chronic Lyme disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with the tick-borne disease each year.
Once an avid hiker and rock climber, Heitchue was eventually bound to his bed for 6 years. He says it happened when he was a new Dad.
“I really wanted to be a father. I’d had a child. And I wanted to be there for her,” Heitchue remembers. “Laying in bed in agony while trying to care for a two year old..it was awful.”
For years, Heitchue searched for an answer.
“I just kept going from doctor to doctor saying, “I don’t feel well, I’m not able to function as an adult, how can I get better?” Heitchue remembers. Finally, after doing his own research, Heitchue asked to be tested for Lyme.The tests came back positive.
Health experts say chronic Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed. According to the Oregon Lyme Disease Network, it has similar symptoms to ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, or Parkinson’s Disease.
“It frustrates me,” Heitchue says. “And I’m fatigued watching patient after patient reach out for help and not get it.”
Theresa Denham, the president of the Oregon Lyme Disease Network, is offering that help. Denham was misdiagnosed with MS for years, before she tested positive for Lyme. Now a recovered Lyme patient, she has dedicated her life to raising awareness about the disease.
Dehham recommends wearing wearing long pants, boots, and bug spray while hiking. When you get home, check for ticks, take a shower and wash your clothes.
If you are living with Lyme, Heitchue says there is hope for recovery. “They can beat Lyme disease and regain major parts of their life that are lost to them.”*
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