Ticks, in particular, are out in full force during the warmer months and wreak more havoc than some might think, Janna Lambert, Rantoul, said. Her daughter, Samantha, was bitten by a tick when she was 3 years old and contracted Lyme disease.
“I saw a bite mark and then I saw the rash,” she said. “It was like a bulls-eye on the back of her neck. She was [a strange case] because she had rashes all over her body. She was so small, it just covered her torso.”
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lambert said she wasn’t sure when Samantha was bitten, but she knew the tick bite had something to do with the rash and other symptoms her daughter was experiencing.
“She ran a fever, her head hurt, her stomach hurt, she was just really sick for about two weeks,” she said. “I’d think it was gone and then it’d come back. She would just cry and cry.”
After taking Samantha to the doctor and being told it was nothing to worry about and would clear up on its own, Lambert said, she knew something more was wrong, but wasn’t sure what it was.
“I was kind of in that place as a mom where you just kind of go, ‘Well he’s a doctor, what do I know?’” she said. “I didn’t really think of Lyme disease at that time because I didn’t know a whole lot about it. I did think something else was wrong.”
“ ... We took her back to the doctor again, and he was like ‘just give it some time’ and things like that,” she said. “Then she did kind of get better after awhile, but she wasn’t really better.”
Though the symptoms weren’t as severe as they had started out, Lambert said, her daughter was very weak, even having trouble walking.
“Her knees were weird,” she said. “She couldn’t walk up the stairs and she would be like ‘Mommy, carry me.’”
It wasn’t until a friend of Lambert’s mentioned Lyme disease that she said she gave it serious consideration.
“So I went back to the doctor and I said, ‘I think she has a tick bite and I think you should test her,’” she said. “I didn’t realize how hard at that time it was [to test for Lyme disease].”
After undergoing what Lambert said felt like countless tests for the disease, the results all came back negative and gave her no closure on the cause of Samantha’s condition.
“All her symptoms seemed to revolve around that one incident,” she said. “[The tests] all came back negative and, as the years progressed, you just go on with life and do the best you can.”
It wasn’t until Samantha was at the end of her freshman year in high school that Lambert said she decided to track down a doctor who specialized in treating patients with Lyme disease.
“I too had issues with a tick bite,” she said. “Finally I’m like ‘Dang it — I’m going to find a doctor who specializes in Lyme and find out for sure what’s going on.’ He diagnosed both of us in the office.”
The doctor explained to Lambert the difficulty in testing for the disease, she said.
“By this time, [my daughter] had chronic Lyme, either the second or third stage,” she said. “We started treatment for both of us.”
Her daughter struggled to take the medication, she said, with Samantha experiencing bad side effects. She soon received bacillus shots and didn’t suffer from as harsh of side effects, her mother said.
“We could see light at the end of the tunnel,” Lambert said. “She started feeling better.”
She and Samantha continue living with the disease because there is no known cure for Lyme disease. Lambert and her daughter continue taking medication and receiving shots, but each day brings something different.
“You kind of feel like you have the flu all the time. Your body aches,” she said. “Every day is kind of a different journey. You never know if you’re going to have a good day or bad day.”
Because of the length of time her daughter has had to live with and struggle with the disease, she was awarded the Courageous Survivor Award from the Kansas Tick-Borne Disease Advocates. Lambert said despite her daily struggles, her daughter always has managed to put a smile on her face.
“She’s just always had a good attitude about it,” Lambert said. “One of the things that broke my heart the most was when I came to the realization that she really doesn’t know what it feels like to feel good.”
Her daughter’s positive attitude can’t be constant though, she said. Everyone has a breaking point, Lambert said, and her daughter is no different.
“She just keeps going, and when she’s all done and falls apart, then I baby her. I love on her,” she said. “I bring her things and rub lotion on her feet or whatever it takes just to make her feel better.”
The symptoms of Lyme disease can vary person to person, Lambert said, and although she said she and her daughter might always feel tired, it could always be worse.
“Other people get bit and they have seizures and they can’t work and they’re in wheelchairs,” she said. “ ... We’ve been lucky because our symptoms have been like, ‘Yeah, we’re tired all the time and we hurt all the time, but they’ve been manageable.’”
Lambert said she wants people to be informed and protect themselves during the warmer months, but also for people to know that the disease is manageable. Her daughter is proof, she said.
“[Samantha] judges each day as it comes and she just keeps pushing,” Lambert said. “[She will say] ‘I’m not going to lay down and stop because I don’t feel good, I’m going to go ahead and do this.’ She sets goals and goes and does them. It’s pretty neat.”