Medford photographer Rachel Southmayd was diagnosed with Lyme disease only three months ago, but she’s battled the debilitating symptoms for two decades since being bit by a tick around the age of 10 or 11.
The 32-year-old owner of Pixy Prints Photography continued to work until recently, when the fatigue and chronic pain finally became too much.
“I reached a point where I couldn’t even walk down stairs without crying. That’s when I went to the doctor and we started down this long road of testing me for autoimmune disorders and everything else under the sun. I’m a wedding photographer, so after long hours of shooting I would go home at the end of the day and collapse in tears,” she said.
Having long suspected Lyme disease, but told by doctors the disease is virtually unheard of in Oregon, Southmayd continued to research other options while treating symptoms that ranged from joint pain and fatigue to heart palpitations and muscle spasms.
“About three months ago, I started having problems with my heart and had a few trips to the ER. The doctor put all the things together and decided to finally test me for Lyme disease,” she recalled, noting that the positive test result was a big relief.
“It sounds crazy to be happy to know that I have it, but it was just such a relief to finally have an answer,” she said.
Southmayd joined a local support group — of other Lyme disease sufferers told that the disease is unheard of in Oregon — and learned of a clinic in Germany that allegedly has a 99-percent success rate at treating patients.
A bacterial infection caused by spirochete (a corkscrew-shaped bacteria) called Borrelia Burgdorferi, Lyme disease is a blood-borne infection most often spread by the bite of a deer tick, which can be as small as a poppy seed.
Because of the corkscrew shape, Lyme bacteria can literally drill through tissue and spread throughout the body so fast that the bacteria can appear in spinal fluid within three weeks of a tick bite, Southmayd said.
Often misdiagnosed, Lyme attacks the central nervous system and can be misdiagnosed as ALS, MS, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, all of which Southmayd said she researched while looking for answers.
To help Southmayd travel to Germany for treatment, family and friends are hosting a German-themed benefit dinner and auction at 6 p.m. Jan. 8, at 30 North Fine Art Gallery in downtown Medford.
Local event planner Desirae Anthony is hosting the event, she said, to ensure Southmayd has the best chance of recovery. Anthony said she needs to raise $20,000 to cover travel and treatment expenses.
“Her best hope for treatment is in Germany, where the physician she is working with is actually curing people of the disease with a 99-percent success rate. They have very different treatment options from the treatment options that are offered here — options that don’t even work and insurance won’t cover,” Anthony said.
“She’s just a great friend, wife, mother, extremely talented and popular photographer. And she’s just the nicest person and she deserves a chance to finally get her life back.”
Tickets for Anthony’s event cost $40. The benefit will include appetizers, dinner, desert, beer and wine, music, dancing, a photo booth, and a silent and live auction.
“Since the goal is to send her to Germany, we want to have a German-themed evening, so there will be black forest cake, sausages with assorted mustards for appetizers and red cabbage,” Anthony said. “We just want to make a really awesome event and raise as much money as we can to give her this chance.”
Southmayd said the inability to work and the constant pain motivate her to continue fighting medical terminology such as “incurable” and “late stage.”
“With how progressed it is, I haven’t been working for months. My muscles will tremor so badly I can’t even walk up stairs. The pain, on a scale of one to 10, is a solid eight or nine. All the time,” she noted.
If she can raise the money, her treatment would require a 12-week stay in Germany. Southmayd plans to travel with her two children and mother-in-law, while her husband, owner of Smoke and Mirrors BBQ, attends nursing classes and stays home to work.
“It’s been going on for so long that part of me thinks, ‘What if I don’t get better?’ ” she said. “But I just have to put those thoughts away and give it my best shot for myself and for my family.”