Lyme disease is one of those things you hear about happening to other people.
In the case of the Matt and Melissa Hanson family of Waconia, however, they are those other people, as several family members ended up battling Lyme disease last year. With warmer temperatures and tick season well underwell, the Hansons felt it was important to share their story to raise awareness about the disease.
Last August, Melissa and the couple’s children — Madala, Trimmier, and Layla Joe, current ages 6, 5 and 2, respectively — were visiting the playground at Bayview Elementary School.
“We’re kind of an active, adventurous family,” Melissa said. “I took the kids on a nature walk in the woods behind Bayview. A couple of days later, while giving Madala a bath, we noticed a huge circular bullseye-looking rash on her. Since it was the evening, the next morning I called the doctor right away.”
At the appointment, it didn’t take long for the doctor to make a diagnosis.
“As soon as the doctor saw it, they diagnosed it as Lyme disease,” recalled Melissa, who explained that the large bullseye rash is a strong indicator of Lyme disease, although not everyone with Lyme disease develops it.
Melissa felt a mixture of fear, guilt and sadness about the news.
“Obviously, the loss of control of knowing what to do next was scary,” she said, noting that she didn’t recall anything out of the ordinary during the nature walk. “We stayed on the path. Madala might have wandered a little bit and maybe she brushed some tall grass or something but it could have happened anywhere.”
In Madala’s case, she developed no other symptoms outside of the rash. Ultimately, the Hansons were thankful for the rash because Lyme disease is best treated as soon as possible.
“It’s very serious, especially if you don’t get it treated right away. That’s what’s scary,” said Melissa, who has devoted many hours to researching the disease since her daughter’s diagnosis last summer.
According to www.lymedisease.org, Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria called spirochete that humans can get from the bite of an infected deer tick. The spirochete’s scientific name is Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme disease is called “The Great Imitator” because its symptoms mimic many other diseases.
It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart. Because their bite is painless, many people do not realize they have been bitten.
After the diagnosis, the Hansons immediately started treatment for Madala. They also sought the second opinion of a “Lyme literate” doctor that specializes in the disease, which helped Madala receive additional treatment.
Although Madala was on the mend, the family’s Lyme disease experience wasn’t over yet. About a month or two later, both Melissa and Layla Joe began showing symptoms of a mystery illness. For Melissa, she felt as though her mind was in a fog and she felt fatigued with a stiff neck and heavy shoulders. Layla Joe was battling a fever and the Hansons weren’t sure if it was just a fever or something else.
“I was thinking I could have Lyme disease, too,” said Melissa, whose research had indicated that the disease can easily be spread from one person to another if they are in close proximity to one another.
After working with the specialist, Melissa tested positive for Lyme disease. Although Layla Joe’s tests were inconclusive, both she and Melissa were treated for Lyme disease because the key is to treat it early. The pair treated the disease with a combination of prescription antibiotics, vitamins, and alternative medicines.
“We changed our diet,” added Melissa, explaining that the family started to eat gluten free foods and more vegetables and protein while staying away from certain inflammatory foods. The treatments and change in diet have worked as all three — Madala, Melissa and Layla Joe — are now symptom free of Lyme disease.
“They tell us to continue to live a healthy lifestyle and if we do become symptomatic again, we should get treated right away,” Melissa said. “It’s something we could be dealing with the rest of our lives but with the research I’ve done and working with the specialist, I feel more confident and at ease with where we are with Lyme disease.”
For a while, Melissa was unsure if she wanted people to know about her family’s experience but now, she feels more comfortable talking about it and believes it’s important to help raise awareness about the disease.
“It’s out there and it happens,” she said, noting that Lyme disease isn’t something many people talk about but once they do, they often realize or learn that they know people with the disease. “I just want people to know what to do or what to look for because the key is if you have symptoms or develop the rash, treat it early.”
Melissa said that people with chronic Lyme disease often get misdiagnosed because, as noted, its symptoms mimic many other diseases. She added that diagnosing Lyme disease gets more difficult the longer one waits.
Although her family’s brush with Lyme disease is still somewhat fresh in her mind, Melissa said the experience isn’t going to dictate how they live their lives. The Hansons still love being adventurous and are planning a camping trip — complete with some family hikes — this summer.
“I know how to protect my family and what to look for now,” said Melissa, who noted that she has learned about many cases of Lyme disease where people end up unable to walk, have autoimmune diseases or problems, or other debilitating conditions. “We hope to never get to those stages. The more I hear, the luckier I feel that we were able to catch and treat it early.”
To learn more about Lyme disease, visit www.lymedisease.org or mnlyme.com. Information is also available at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website: www.dnr.state.mn.us.
Contact Todd Moen at [email protected]