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Woman will forever live with chronic Lyme Disease

“It’s like living with a fake illness,” said Denise Nichols.
Published: Jun. 23, 2022 at 7:05 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - A Boone County Occupational Therapist who helps people with chronic illnesses find herself as the patient fighting a potentially debilitating disease.

Every Four of July, Denise Nichols marks another year since being diagnosed with Lyme Disease. It is spread from mouse to tick and through the bite of a tick into the humans blood stream. There are two different types of Lyme’s: Lyme arthritis and Lyme neuroborreliosis.

Nichols lives with Lyme neuroborreliosis, attacking both her brain and spinal cord. Symptoms can range from as small as flu symptoms to as aggressive as arthritis, meningitis, and facial nerve inflammation.

“Acute disseminated Lyme, so they were thinking I had about it two to four weeks before they caught it. My legs started shaking at work and so by the time I got home it had looked like I had Parkinson’s. I was shaking like this,” said Nichols.

Nichols said she visited many doctors, being told it was “just anxiety” and “I needed to believe in myself like they believed in me,” calling the whole experience “humiliating.” Before landing on the one doctor that would change it all. Making her feel not-so-crazy for knowing something was actually wrong.

In most cases, a red bulls eye will form around a tick bite. While not every bite will result in Lyme Disease, it is a sign to get to a doctor as soon as you can. Nichols says she wasn’t aware of a tick bite until physical symptoms showed up.

“I would start going deaf in my left ear, or I would get numbness down the middle of my palette. Severe pain with swallowing is what did it, like it was a knife shooting down my throat,” said Nichols.

The CDC reports every year, more than 450,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme Disease. It’s important to get early treatment, but also know there could be long-term symptoms.

“So now I truly have had long lasting, but I’m starting to exercise again and working full-time so like I said I am starting to feel like a human again,” said Nichols.

“I would say to be alert, make sure you have appropriate clothing when you go hiking or camping. Have your insect repellants with you, and make sure you stay hydrated in the area,” said Dr. Martine Schultheis, an infectious disease doctor at OSF.

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