Lisa Vallo spent years fighting for a diagnosis. At one point, she thought she might die without one.
As Fox News reports, the 51-year-old mom and artist from West Yorkshire, England can remember the day she contracted Lyme disease. And it all goes back to her cat.
Vallo often let her cat sleep on her bed. And her pet would bring in the occasional tick. One morning, she found a tick had moved from her cat to her stomach. She told the Telegraph and Argus:
“My cat was on the bed, I noticed a black mark on my tummy, which I thought it was a bit of dirt, but it wouldn’t move. Eventually I pulled it off and could see the legs of this tiny creature wriggling. It was a tick, and I had no idea the damage it would cause.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Lyme disease is passed to humans through bacteria from infected ticks. Early symptoms (within 30 days of the bite) include fever, headache, fatigue, joint and muscle aches, and a distinctive “bulls-eye” rash.
Later symptoms can include neck stiffness, severe headaches, arthritis and severe joint pain, memory issues, heart palpitations, dizziness, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, nerve pain, facial palsy, and muscle pain.
If caught early, Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics. However, left untreated, the disease can spread to the heart, joints, and nervous system.
After being bitten by the tick in 2002, Vallo started experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease almost immediately. She told the Telegraph and Argus that she has been ill, “most of the time,” since she that day:
“It started like flu then I developed a serious Vitamin D deficiency and anemia. My legs felt heavy and painful, I was tired all the time and had chest pains. I was bedridden a lot of the time.”
However, it would take 14 years and nine doctors before Vallo was diagnosed with Lyme disease.
She was constantly fatigued and would fall asleep in strange places — like the floor of her daughter’s dance class. She told Punch:
“My battery was always flat. I would be asleep downstairs on the sofa then go upstairs and fall asleep on the bed. The effort of just climbing the stairs left me gasping for breath and I would not make it back down the stairs.”
She went through a series of misdiagnoses. At one point, doctors thought it might be depression. On the website Ticktools, she wrote:
For 14 long, wasteful, stressful, “wading through mud” years I was diagnosed with everything from CFS, depression, ME, arthritis, anemia, vitamin D deficiencies, insomnia, etc, etc and of course hypochondria, when all the time I was suffering from undetected Lyme disease, which I had suspected all along!
Vallo’s experience with misdiagnoses is not unusual. Liz Petrone, who got Lyme disease from a tick at a wedding, was waiting for cancer tests when she learned she actually had Lyme disease. She wrote:
Lyme is known as the “great imitator” because it is good at presenting as other things: the flu, even cancer. There are stories of people being diagnosed with schizophrenia only to later find out it was Lyme. It’s scary, yes, but that is why I’m telling you this, because so many of us (myself included, up until it happened to me) don’t know what to look for.
In Vallo’s case, she suspected she had Lyme disease after seeing a report about it on television. However, because there is less risk of Lyme disease in the U.K., doctors dismissed her worries, chalking them up to hypochondria.
Somehow my Lyme disease awareness campaign made it to Fox News in the USA yesterday! Wow! So thankful for the exposure….
After a particularly bad spell, she was on the verge of giving up. “I knew I wasn’t going to get any better and ended up planning my funeral,” she told Punch.
Finally, frustrated at the lack of sophisticated tests for Lyme disease in the U.K., Vallo had a sample of her blood sent to a private clinic in Germany. She told the Telegraph and Argus that when the test came back positive, it was a cause for celebration:
“After 14 years of suffering, reaching the end of my tether trying to convince people I had it, I was finally diagnosed with it. I felt like I’d won the lottery! I cried with relief.
But in this country, I’m still not diagnosed. Whenever I have a flare-up I can’t even call a doctor.”
Now, Vallo is working to raise awareness of Lyme disease in the U.K., letting others know about the risks, symptoms, and the need for prompt treatment. She wrote on Facebook that, “I don’t blame the cat, I blame my ignorance around Lyme disease at that time.”
She’s also more optimistic about the possibility of managing her disease. However, Vallo still struggles with fatigue and has developed intolerances to many ordinary things, including tap water. She told the Telegraph and Argus:
“For years I felt Lyme Disease was my ‘dictator.’ Now, through diet and discovering what my intolerances are, I hope to get it under control — rather than letting it control me. It’s a daily battle.”