Bit by a tick near Fishing Lake in June 2009, Tera Hunter said she was infected with Lyme disease — an affliction she’s had to live with ever since.
When she began to notice symptoms, she was pregnant with her son Harrison. When she visited a hospital, staff were unable to determine what was causing her physical and thinking problems, she said.
“Once I had my son, I plummeted terribly,” she recalled. “I couldn’t function at all.”
After her son’s birth, doctors told her she was just tired and depressed, Hunter said.
“I’d feed (my son) while I was laying down because I was too dizzy to get up.”
As her symptoms continued to worsen, she fought back against what she says was a misdiagnosis.
Finally, a doctor in Wadena, where she was living at the time, said, “I think you might have Lyme disease,” and asked if she’d ever been bitten by a tick.
Hunter said she was tested two times in Canada and the results were negative for Lyme disease. She wasn’t satisfied, and ended up seeking a second opinion in the United States.
In December 2010, a specialist in Kansas diagnosed her with the disease. After that, a Saskatchewan doctor signed a prescription for the antibiotics she needed, Hunter said.
For the next three and a half years, she was on antibiotics, while symptoms of the disease came and went. Her doctor in Kansas told her she may struggle with the disease, off and on, for the rest of her life, she said.
For now, she is feeling better, but her illness has taken its toll on her family. Trips south of the border cost more than $30,000, she said, adding that her husband had to quit his job on the oilfield to work closer to home while their son was young.
Harrison, now 6, was also diagnosed with the disease in 2010 and spent three and a half years on antibiotics. He was plagued with bowel problems and struggled to gain weight, Hunter said.
Still small for his age, Harrison is now symptom-free and the family hopes he is cured, Hunter said.
After the negative Canadian tests, doctors ignored what she considers the telltale symptoms of Lyme disease, like the ‘bulls-eye rash,’ she said.
“They’d want to shove anti-depressants down my throat like nobody’s business.”
Hunter said American doctors ran more thorough blood tests than Canadian clinics, and spent more time pinpointing what was causing her symptoms.
“You pay big bucks, but you get such good care,” she said.
In a recent interview with The Canadian Press, Dr. Gregory Taylor, chief of the Public Health Agency of Canada, said, “Everyone agrees that we have to have better laboratory testing (for Lyme).”
However, seeking help in the United States isn’t necessarily the answer, according to Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer. Alternatives to the two-step test used in Canada have been studied by various agencies and aren’t always accurate, he said.
“When they’ve done validation of those tests, they’ve found a very high rate of false positives,” Shahab said.
“That’s why the two-step test is recommended — to decrease the false positive rate.”
“There all limitations with all tests,” Shahab added. “If the clinical history and the signs are compatible, then the patient can discuss with their physician for repeat testing in Saskatchewan.”