For Sheri Souch, the journey down the long road to recovery from Lyme disease appears to be nearing its end.
For the past six years the elementary school teacher and mother of two from Kaleden has fought to cope with the devastating and often debilitating symptoms of the illness which, at its worst, left her bedridden and hoping her life of torment would end.
“All I prayed for was that I could just get up in the morning and be with my kids because for many months couldn’t even get out of bed,” she said. “I thought I would never get better. I hoped I would get better but it was just so overwhelming and I was thinking either end it all now or get me better. It was just horrible.”
Like many others with the disease, Souch not only had to contend with the severe problems associated with the condition, but with a medical administration nightmare.
Despite exhibiting the textbook symptoms of the three stages of Lyme disease, the doctors she visited did not believe that was what the problem was, telling her Lyme did not exist in B.C.
The illness is caused by a spirochaete-type bacterium transmitted by two varieties of tick which are more prevalent in other parts of Canada and B.C, but do exist in the Okanagan.
Symptoms are also similar to other conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s which can also impact the diagnosis.
Canada has a two-tier testing system for Lyme. However, when Souch’s results to the first came back negative, she said she was denied the second.
It wasn’t until going to a Washington State laboratory Souch received what she felt was the correct diagnosis. She got the proper medication and began to see improvement, bringing Souch to her current state of health.
“At one point I couldn’t have even imagined that I would get to where I am now, which is symptom free, able to train again, able to work full time,” she said. “It’s so corny, but it’s so true, you just feel like, ‘oh, I’ve got my life back, this is it, I’ve got another chance to live my life.’ I’m more busy now that before I was sick, I just so much appreciate being healthy again.”
West Kelowna’s Jim Wilson is someone else who had a similar experience after he became infected in 1991 and for years struggled to get the proper diagnosis and treatment.
His frustration with the entire process and the medical community in particular led him to establish the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation (CanLyme) in 2003.
“Lyme disease is on the rise in Canada, yet treatment and public awareness are largely inadequate,” said Wilson. “CanLyme is dedicated to raising awareness and promoting Lyme research, education and treatment.”
He added that while there have been some overall improvements in the Canadian health care system relating to Lyme, much more work remains to be done to bring levels to where he believes they should be to properly diagnose and treat the illness.
Penticton residents will have an opportunity to learn more about the illness, particularly prevention, this Tuesday when Wilson will be the guest speaker at the Penticton Museum Brown Bag Lecture Series at the museum/library auditorium beginning at noon. Cost for those wanting to listen is by donation and free coffee is served.
During the hour-long presentation, Wilson will outline a lot of the facts and myths surrounding the disease with the overall goal to show people that the best defence to not winding up where he and others have, is knowledge about what to do and not what to do.
This is particularly important now because — although Lyme can be contracted at any time of the year — the spring and early summer are particularly bad times for infection.