An Untreated Tick Bite Made Her the ‘Bionic Woman’

Oct. 7, 2022 — Exploring the woods, mountaineering, summer season camp, and common journeys to the canine park have been all regular actions rising up in New Jersey. Meghan Bradshaw described herself as a wholesome, lively younger woman with an affinity for the nice open air. However issues modified when she started having sporadic, unrelated well being issues like exhaustion, dizzy spells, and body aches. After seeing all kinds of medical specialists to uncover the basis of those points, her lab outcomes have been at all times inconclusive.  

Unbeknown to Bradshaw and her medical doctors, her sickness stemmed from a parasite. Bradshaw had contracted Lyme disease, a bacterial an infection that may come from the chunk of a blacklegged tick — also called a deer tick — if it stays hooked up to your physique for 36 to 48 hours. Signs can include memory loss, joint pain, drooping muscular tissues on one or either side of your face, and tingling or numbness of your physique components. 


Bradshaw’s well being continued to worsen as she bounced from the East Coast to the West Coast in her early 20s for work as a retail supervisor at Nordstrom. It wasn’t till she took a job promotion in Nashville that her sickness turned debilitating and left her bedridden. She may not carry out on a regular basis duties like holding a toothbrush or washing dishes. 

Bradshaw’s knees started filling up with fluid. Her physician identified her with rheumatoid arthritis, which is the closest factor he may consider to clarify her “thriller” sickness. She needed to have her hips replaced at 26 years previous.

“It [the disease] was deteriorating each joint in my physique,” Bradshaw, now 29, says. “I used to be a shell of myself. It was terrifying.” 

One specialist referred Bradshaw to a practical medication physician, who started asking questions on her upbringing. Upon discovering Bradshaw was from New Jersey, the place blacklegged ticks are extraordinarily common, her physician requested a query that modified all the things. 

“Have you ever ever been examined for Lyme illness?” 

Bionic Girl

Quick ahead just a few years. Bradshaw has now had 16 of her joints reconstructed and eight joint replacements, all due to the late detection of Lyme illness. She is getting ready to have each elbows changed, alongside together with her second surgical procedure on every hand, all of which ought to be accomplished throughout the subsequent 12 months. Hopefully then, she’ll “catch a break.” However there’ll probably be extra surgical procedures down the street to switch her joint replacements, she says. 

Bradshaw’s expertise is extraordinarily uncommon for Lyme illness sufferers, says Glenn Gaston, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at OrthoCarolina in Charlotte. Solely a small variety of Lyme illness sufferers develop arthritis, particularly if it is handled early, says Gaston, who operated on Bradshaw’s fingers. If a affected person does get arthritis, it often solely impacts one joint, which is usually the knee.

“I’ve by no means even heard or learn in a textbook a case to the diploma of Meghan’s, of getting to have a number of joint replacements and a number of surgical procedures, notably at such a younger age,” Gaston says.

When requested why Bradshaw’s Lyme illness analysis remained a thriller for therefore lengthy, Gaston says the illness might be laborious to detect.

“The most important cause I see for delayed detection and remedy of Lyme illness is primarily as a result of it’s not usually within the forefront of the minds of clinicians, notably relying on the place a affected person lives,” he says. “In the event that they reside in Connecticut, which is the place Lyme illness comes from (Lyme, Connecticut), it’s extra believable that they’re going to consider it early. The additional you get from the epicenter of the analysis, the much less physicians give it some thought of their differential.” 

For those who take away the tick earlier than 48 hours, you probably gained’t get the illness. Ticks might be as small as a poppyseed, so recognizing them might be laborious. However one main signal of a tick chunk is a rash that appears like a bull’s eye. For those who catch it early, Lyme illness might be handled and cured with antibiotics. However with late detection (like Bradshaw’s), remedy and restoration grow to be way more tough. Excellent news: A vaccine to deal with Lyme illness is currently in section III scientific trials with drugmakers Pfizer and Valneva. 

Dwelling on what life may have been like if, early on, medical doctors had requested questions on her upbringing has been one of the vital tough issues for Bradshaw to return to grips with. 

“I’ve extreme medical trauma and I relive it each 3 months after one other traumatic surgical procedure,” she says. “It’s continuously going via the grief cycle.” 

Bradshaw is usually nicknamed the “bionic lady,” which she finds endearing.

“I take advantage of humor as a coping mechanism,” she says. “I’ve to giggle about it. As a result of if I don’t giggle, I cry, and that is more healthy for me.”

Newfound Goal

Nice well being care is one main supply of gratitude for Bradshaw. Her surgical procedures and medical care have racked up over $1 million {dollars} of medical prices, of which her insurance coverage lined the bulk, and he or she paid the remaining out of pocket. Bradshaw usually speaks publicly in regards to the lack of entry to high quality well being look after sure marginalized communities, like LGBTQ+ people, immigrant teams, and folks of coloration.  

“I’m very lucky I’ve had entry to enchancment of my situations,” she says. “Lots of people don’t have a way to an finish.”

Whereas it might be straightforward to grow to be indignant, and even resentful, for her late analysis, Bradshaw has shifted her focus towards tick-borne illness consciousness advocacy, which has been “very therapeutic” for her.

“I can look in hindsight and see the entire issues that have been fallacious in my path and on this expertise,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Right here is the way it ought to be. And right here’s how we are able to repair it.’ I wish to be aside of that.” 

Bradshaw lately co-founded a nonprofit group, Tick JEDI Coalition (JEDI stands for “juvenile academic protection initiative”) that strives to place tick security training into mainstream well being science curricula. 

“Kids ought to be studying this [tick safety] as a elementary life ability, the identical manner they study handwashing,” she says.

Meghan’s Ideas

To assist keep away from late detection of Lyme illness, or some other sickness, Bradshaw provides the following pointers. 

You recognize your physique higher than anybody.

“Medical doctors are extremely sensible, gifted, and educated about many issues. However on the finish of the day, everybody continues to be human. There could also be instances that you’ve got one thing that’s past the scope of their information. If the physician you see will not be the suitable match, and you’ll be able to entry care elsewhere, do your analysis and discover somebody who could also be an excellent match.”

Make the most of affected person help teams.

“I believe there’s rather a lot you possibly can study from different people and their experiences, each good and dangerous issues. I discovered them extremely useful in my very own expertise.”

Have a help particular person.

“There have been many instances, particularly in the beginning of my journey, the place I used to be so emotionally distraught coping with this stuff. My mother and father have been there to take notes and absorb all the things for me. Have a help particular person as a result of it’s laborious to do this stuff alone.”

Editor’s word: Here is extra data on Lyme disease .

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