Blaine Avery has not been able to work at his craft since December due to the chronic effects of Lyme Disease that was not treated for several months.
Recently diagnosed, Avery said his journey is far from over.
“It’s not just about me,” he said. “I wanted to do the interview to raise awareness about Lyme Disease and that it is in North Carolina. Many doctors, for whatever reason, don’t believe so. With 300,000 cases a year, it’s an epidemic the public isn’t aware of and the government isn’t doing much about.
“It is important to get treated early so what has happened to me doesn’t happen to someone else.”
What is Lyme Disease?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Lyme Disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a characteristic skin rash. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.
Lyme Disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks. Most cases of Lyme Disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics if it’s caught early enough.
In his case, because diagnosis took so long, he has developed shooting pains or tingling in his hands, arms and legs. He also has numbness on one side of his face — similar to Bell’s palsy. He has joint pains and memory problems, and feels tired for a large portion of each day.
Avery, 46, is a North Carolinian who developed a love for the arts while still in high school.
“I got interested in ceramics in high school,” he said. “I went to Montgomery Community College’s program. Sid Oakley was my teacher. Then I apprenticed under Mike Ferree. I moved to Seagrove in 2001.”
He is not sure how he contracted the disease or when a tick might have bitten him.
“Over the years, I have had several tick bites from working on my land and cutting firewood, so I don’t know when I contracted it,” he said. “I started having neurological symptoms over 18 months ago.”
Because of his late diagnosis, Avery’s symptoms are considered chronic and will require a treatment beyond that of a primary care physician. He has also lost the ability to do his work, threatening his livelihood and his ability to care for his son, Judson.
Something as simple as taking a shower or going to the mailbox is utterly exhausting for Avery.
“The new symptoms have gotten worse, so now I am waiting to start intravenous antibiotics,” he said. “My liver functions are kind of high so I have to wait one to three months before I can start them — for my liver levels to get back to normal. The long-term antibiotics are expensive and most insurances do not cover the cost.”
He will also be traveling to Washington, D.C., later this week for a second opinion.
“It’s not something I ever wanted to do,” he said, “but while the oral antibiotics I was taking helped a little, it was not near enough.”
Avery has some major concerns about the management of Lyme Disease — not for himself but for others who may have contracted the disease.
“There needs to be a better test for Lyme Disease,” he said. “There are a lot of false-positive results with the testing they do now. It’s not as common in North Carolina so it’s not diagnosed as often. It’s not just a test, but a combination of symptoms and testing. Two, there is a vaccine for dogs but not for humans. That needs to change. There was one, but it was pulled from the shelves. Three, some people say there is no Lyme Disease in North Carolina, but it is documented in dogs here.”
The carrier for Lyme Disease, infectious blacklegged ticks have been found statewide but are more plentiful in the eastern counties. Although this tick is commonly known as the “deer tick” in other states, the name is misleading in North Carolina, where blacklegged ticks are only one of many species of ticks that feed on deer.
In 2013, North Carolina reported 173 (39 confirmed and 134 probable) cases of Lyme Disease. For the five-year period from 2009 to 2013, the state reported 601 (134 confirmed and 467 probable) cases. By the end of 2013, four counties in North Carolina — Alleghany, Haywood, Guilford and Wake — had been classified as endemic for Lyme Disease for surveillance purposes. This means that two or more cases have been confirmed in each county and the patients’ travel histories indicate that the infection was acquired in that county.
Because he has been unable to work and is facing an almost insurmountable pile of medical expenses, there has been a GoFundMe page set up on his behalf.
“I built this place (home/gallery) by myself,” he said. “All I wanted was a piece of land and to build my own pottery shop. It was my dream since I was 18-19 years old. I’ve worked all my life to get my own shop. I never thought that this illness could take it away from me. I want to get back to doing what I love.
“This has been very humbling, but very uplifting to see the kindness of people. I’m amazed at how kind they are.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme Disease can often go undiagnosed until it becomes a chronic illness.
* Symptoms may present as a flu-like illness (fever, chills, sweats, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea and joint pain).
* Some patients have a rash or Bell’s palsy (facial drooping). However, although a rash shaped like a bull’s-eye is considered characteristic of Lyme Disease, many people develop a different kind of Lyme rash or none at all. Estimates of patients who develop a Lyme rash vary widely, ranging from about 30-80 percent.
* Risks in contracting Lyme Disease include spending time or playing in wooded or grassy areas.
* Having exposed skin is a risk, since ticks attach easily to bare flesh. If you’re in an area where ticks are common, protect yourself and your children by wearing long sleeves and long pants. Don’t allow your pets to wander in tall weeds and grasses; remove ticks promptly and properly.
* Bacteria from a tick bite can enter your bloodstream if the tick stays attached to your skin for 36 to 48 hours or longer. If you remove a tick within two days, your risk of acquiring Lyme Disease is low.
* Patients treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme Disease usually recover rapidly and completely. Oral antibiotics commonly used include doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil.
* Patients with certain neurological or cardiac forms of illness may require intravenous treatment with drugs such as ceftriaxone or penicillin.