Dismal diagnosis

Blood sample: Lyme diagnosis made after testing in California laboratory.

Simply surviving: Lyme disease has replaced Sheri and Rory Mahood’s exuberant

Simply surviving: Lyme disease has replaced Sheri and Rory Mahood’s exuberant

News March 30 that Victoria will fund a $2-million provincial clinic to provide for a clinical and research study to help patients with a variety of complex chronic diseases get screening, diagnosis and treatment is an answer to a prayer for Sheri Mahood and her husband Rory.

“I was filled with so much emotion, I just had to cry,” says the woman whose health has been ravaged by Lyme disease following a 2009 tick bite. “They’re finally recognizing it and doing something.”

Sheri describes the couple’s life before Lyme disease as one filled with love, laughter and adventure.

“We created a wonderful life together and lived life to the fullest,” she says. “Our philosophy was to live a balanced lifestyle ensuring optimal health for body, mind and spirit. And we were good at that.”

A registered orthomolecular health practitioner specializing in holistic nutrition and a reiki master as well, she had just opened her own business called Healthy Outlook. Rory was teaching social work at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.

That good life came to a close dramatically on Monday, Nov. 23, 2009 – the morning after one of the couple’s hikes in the area around their Sunnybrae home.

“The next morning around 11:30, as I attempted to read one of my health books, I found that I could not comprehend the meaning. I read the paragraph again, but still could not understand.  Tingling sensations began in my hands and over my face and I felt something was terribly wrong. I had the sense of being in a dream.  I thought I should take a shower, but that perhaps I should lay down as I was feeling very tired, and also fear of what was happening to me.  I was confused and frightened…”

And so began Sheri’s damnable voyage into the world of Lyme disease, which she describes so poignantly on her blog at www.lymecrime.blogspot.com.

When routine tests read normal, Sheri was referred to a neurologist to whom she presented her long list of symptoms – difficulty concentrating when reading, dizziness, speech difficulties (wrong words, word retrieval, stuttering/repeating, slowed and slurring), trances, numbing sensations in hands/feet/lips/face/tongue/ears, pressure against nose/sinus and in chest, constant eye twitching, involuntary spontaneous jerking and electrical shivers tingling up and down legs, among others.

The neurologist shocked Sheri by dismissing her suggestion she might have Lyme disease, telling her instead that her symptoms were all psychological and should be treated with anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications.

She finally began to get some answers from the medical field in December 2009, when her family doctor noticed her Bell’s palsy, examined the bite on her leg and advised her to send a blood sample to California because she believed Canadian testing to be inaccurate.

“Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was to be my last appointment with my doctor of eight years,” Sheri says. “Something happened at the clinic where she practised from and I was refused further treatment.”

It was not until May 10, 2010  that Sheri began to receive treatment from a Lyme-literate doctor in the U.S.

“At last, some light dimly shining at the end of my dark tunnel.”

Rory’s dramatic descent into Lyme disease hell began Jan. 2, 2010, when he woke up in the middle of the night, not knowing who or where he was, without any memory of Sheri’s illness.

Again routine tests failed to find any cause for this frightening episode, but over the next little while, Sheri noticed how forgetful he had become, how he stumbled over his words, had difficulty communicating and was visibly fatigued.

“His blood was sent to IGeneX Lab in California on June 15, 2010, and by June 26 we learned that he too tested positive for Borrelia Burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.”

While their love for each other remains strong, their lifestyle is vastly different.

“We have gone bankrupt; he’s not working, I’m not working and we just got a second refusal from Canada Pension because my condition is not severe enough, or prolonged enough,” says Sheri, frustration and fatigue evident in her voice. “I can’t get disability, but who would hire me? I’m having seizures every day and I could never drive.”

The couple see the provincial funding announcement as a sort of validation after a hellish journey in which doctors have been dismissive and family relationships severed.

Another validation is that their painful and debilitating encounter with the disease has possibly spared two others from the same hell and perhaps their very lives.

“A friend was bitten the next summer and because of what we learned of Lyme, we said ‘go and get antibiotics,’” says Sheri. “It means if we tell people we can help protect them and if they do get bitten, they can get the drugs quickly.”

Wearabouts owner Donna Blackburn is eternally grateful to Sheri, who was in her Alexander Street store three weeks before she discovered a tick in her toddler’s hair.

“I had known Sheri for a few years and had always known her to be vivacious and energetic,” says Blackburn, noting she was alarmed by the physical changes. “About a year ago, she came into the store. She wasn’t looking too good and we got to talking about what was going on with her.”

Following her discussion with Sheri, Blackburn, whose surveyor husband works out in the bush, began researching Lyme disease. When she discovered the tick on her daughter’s head, Blackburn removed it and took it to her doctor, who suggested a “wait-and-see” approach.

“Four days later she developed a big bull’s eye rash on the top of her head and he gave me the requested dosage of antibiotics,” she says, noting her local GP was “awesome and didn’t treat me like a lunatic.”

“If I had not known Sheri personally, and she is a credible, amazing woman, you might have brushed off what she was saying,” she says of her daughter’s brush with Lyme and her anxiety now about going out in the bush. “It just shakes you to your core, it’s so terrifying and I’m worried the medical system doesn’t know a lot about it…”

Meanwhile, being treated with long-term drug therapy, the Mahoods hope to get their lives back – he to resume teaching and she to use her education to help others with Lyme disease.