Perhaps as a child playing in the woods…or as an active teen…or as a mom running in the grass with her kids. Shelagh will never know when, but at some point, an unknown insect bite infected her with Lyme disease.
She didn’t see the perpetrator or the classic bulls-eye rash characteristic in some Lyme disease bites.
She did, however, feel the devastating consequences. For years, she suffered from digestive issues, headaches, joint pain, inflammation, flu-like symptoms and more.
And it would take years and half a dozen doctors to finally get diagnoses for Lyme disease and other conditions.
Learn how Shelagh sleuthed her symptoms on her own, addressed Lyme, Babesia and other ailments, and finally cleared an unexpected roadblock to getting her health back.
The Fall that Starts it All
Until 2013, Shelagh was an active mom who jogged, rollerbladed and dabbled in sprint triathlons.
Then, feeling dizzy while rollerblading, she fell – hard. The impact broke her tailbone and gave her severe whiplash.
She’d had migraines once or twice a year before, but post-fall, they soon became a daily occurrence.
For help, her primary care doctor put her on the steroid, prednisone, which in fact, didn’t help at all.
“My doctor said it would change my life – and it did,” she says. “But not in a good way.”
After trying a neurologist, Chinese medicine, cranial-sacral therapy and massage, finally, she found relief with regular chiropractic adjustments. As it turns out, a tilt in her neck vertebrae was causing the extreme pain.
Shelagh had finally found relief from crushing migraines, but new ailments replaced the old: intense gut pain, severe joint pain and flu-like symptoms.
A sudden pancreatitis attack sent her to the emergency room and kept her in the hospital for a week.
In the hospital, doctors hooked Shelagh up to IV antibiotics just in case she had an infection. But following those heavy-duty antibiotics, her digestion became even worse.
“I think my gut was seriously messed up after antibiotics,” she says. “Anytime I tried to eat, my stomach would swell up. I looked like I was eight months pregnant and I would be in severe, severe pain. And it wasn’t just my stomach. It was my joints, my whole body.”
Unable to eat, she dropped from 105 to 86 pounds on her five-foot-two frame. Her mind jumped to worst-case scenarios.
“I was scared maybe I had pancreatic cancer,” she says. “I was in miserable pain and I was mostly in bed at this point.”
But doctors couldn’t pinpoint a cause. She later learned that two pharmaceuticals she had taken in the past could have triggered the attack: the prednisone she used for migraines and Adderall, a drug to address her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
An Infection Scare
Shelagh had only been home for a few months when she went back to the ER with a fever and a rash on her face from what doctors worried could be an infectious disease like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
“They knew from the bloodwork that I was fighting an infection, but they didn’t know exactly what it was,” she says.
Again, they put her on the strongest antibiotics available. Within 24 hours, she had gained more than 20 pounds in fluids, creating intense pressure. She went downhill over the next few days, eventually going in and out of consciousness.
“I knew something was really wrong and I knew it was because of the fluids,” she says. “They even found fluid on some of my organs.”
In excruciating pain, she didn’t think she was going to make it.
“I said goodbye to my husband and asked him to remind the kids how much I love them,” she says.
After Shelagh’s husband urged her to do so, the infectious disease doctor agreed to ask the attending physician to reduce her fluids. Finally, she agreed, and the nurse cut her fluids by 90 percent.
“Within one hour, I knew was going to live,” she recalls. “I felt enormously better. I will be forever grateful to that doctor who listened to me and my husband and fought for me. She had to stand up against another doctor’s protocol or treatment.”
“If they would’ve kept me on all those fluids, I don’t think I would’ve made it,” she says. “There was the physical pain and thinking my husband was going to have to raise the boys alone. Imagining my children without a mom…it was horrible. It was just a horrific, horrific experience.”
More Puzzle Pieces: Heavy Metals and Epstein-Barr
Determined to heal and get her life back, Shelagh turned to integrative medicine practitioners to address her gut issues, inflammation, joint-pain, low-grade fever and mild flu-like symptoms that she couldn’t explain.
Integrative medicine combines both conventional medicine and alternative approaches to discover the cause of health challenges and address the underlying issues with a wide range of modalities.
“With doctor after doctor, I learned more, and in some ways I would improve and then relapse,” she says. “When it got worse, I would see a new doctor, who would find more infections or more things to address. It’s important to see multiple doctors because there wasn’t one doctor who found everything.”
When her bloodwork came back, after her first functional medicine doctor visit, it revealed a few surprises.
“My heavy metals levels were so high that the doctor said, ‘It looks like you worked in a factory every day for the last 30 years,’” she says.
Testing also found active Epstein-Barr virus – the most common cause of mononucleosis – which can be reactivated in immune-compromised individuals.
Doctors recommended detox protocols, supplements and essential oils to clear heavy metals, and heal the virus and her gut. For a few months, Shelagh began feeling better off and on, but then daily fevers, headaches, shortness of breath and chest pains left her in bed 22 hours a day.
“There would be days where I would feel well for a few hours, then be in bed for six days,” she recalls. “There were a lot of ups and downs.”
At one point, one of her doctors suggested that she see a therapist instead, to learn how to accept her illness.
“The doctor said, ‘I’m concerned because I see a lot of my patients turn into professional patients. You might have this the rest of your life. Maybe you could go see a therapist to learn to accept this,’” she says. “Well, that was my last visit with that doctor.”
“I didn’t enjoy going to all these doctors’ appointments,” she adds. “I knew I was capable of getting better. I know the body has an incredible ability to heal and I was not going to give up on myself. My quality of life was so bad I couldn’t accept that this was my fate. I just needed to find the right doctor to figure it all out.”
Finally…a Lyme Disease Diagnosis
Friends with Lyme disease had urged Shelagh to get tested for the disease. Both times she was hospitalized, the labwork turned up negative.
Unfortunately, testing often produces false negatives. Lyme-literate doctors (LLMDs) use more sensitive labs.
Finally, a Western blot test from IGeneX Inc. confirmed that she did, in fact, have Lyme disease and co-infections, including Babesia.
Lyme disease could have remained dormant in Shelagh’s system for years, but only activated when her immune system was compromised due to other factors.
Detox, Rife Machine and Herbs for Lyme Disease
With the help of LLMDs, Shelagh began a multi-layered protocol to address the disease. A couple of doctors had recommended the industry-standard antibiotics for Lyme disease, however, Shelagh felt strongly about pursuing an herbal course of treatment.
“In my research, I learned that a lot of doctors started with antibiotics, but eventually those stopped working and people had to go to herbs for Lyme disease,” she says. “I’ve had friends go on and off antibiotics for years, and as soon as they stopped, their symptoms returned. It confirmed that I didn’t want to do the antibiotics.”
Antibiotics, she learned, can’t kill the disease but can stop it from replicating. Symptoms often go away while people take antibiotics but return later – often worse than before.
She took herbs for Lyme disease, to target the spirochetes bacteria of the disease. Those included three key herbal tinctures available through practitioners:
- Lyme Plus by DesBio
- Byron White Formulas Bio-Targeted Naturals A-BAB
- NutraMedix, Samento Microbial Defense
She followed a detox protocol that included chlorella, infrared sauna sessions, binders, Epsom salt baths with essential oils, clean eating and drinking lots of water with lemon.
Additionally, she sought out treatments with a Rife machine. The Rife machine uses electromagnetic frequencies to help kill viruses without damaging the surrounding tissue. While not FDA approved, many Lyme patients have found it a valuable part of their treatment.
“Several holistic doctors have these in their practices now, but because they’re not FDA approved, they don’t advertise them,” she says. “I started out going to doctors’ offices three times a week, but then eventually purchased my own to use at home.”
Meanwhile, Shelagh supplemented with IV nutrition to rebuild her nutrient levels.
With all that, Shelagh would enjoy more good hours in the day but then would relapse.
“I felt a little better but was still not getting truly better,” she says.
The Missing Link: Ozone Therapy for Old Root Canals
Anytime Shelagh saw a new holistic doctor, they would ask her if she had root canals and in which teeth. A couple of them suggested Shelagh get her three root canals checked for infection but Shelagh saw no redness or outward signs.
Meanwhile, Shelagh noticed that some members of the private Lyme Facebook group she was in had finally recovered only after addressing infections in their wisdom teeth or root canals.
“Whenever someone would post in a group saying they had done all these things for Lyme and still not recovered, each time people would comment about root canals,” she says. “It’s really well known in the Lyme community and among holistic doctors.”
Two of her doctors recommended a holistic dentist, who discovered, surprisingly, that her three root canal sites were actually infected. One of the infections had even eaten away a substantial size hole in her jawbone – called cavitation – despite no noticeable signs.
For six weeks, the dentist treated the root canal sites with ozone injections.
“Ozone is the strongest antimicrobial on the planet,” she says.
Those root canal infections ultimately were holding her back from getting better.
“I started feeling better right away,” she adds. “After the second week of injections, I stopped having fevers. And then by the third or fourth weeks, I called my parents and said, ‘I don’t feel sick anymore.’”
Sick No More
When Shelagh had been diagnosed with Lyme, lab techs – and Shelagh – could actually see the spirochetes of Lyme disease in her blood.
“My doctor told me that it was a good thing that we could see the spirochetes because it meant Lyme was out in the bloodstream instead of hiding in the muscles or bone,” she says. “That way, we could actually attack them with herbs and ozone.”
After ozone treatment, the doctors ran more tests. This time, her blood was clear.
“My doctor asked, ‘How do you feel?’” Shelagh says. “I said, ‘I feel great. I don’t feel sick anymore. She’s like, ‘Your results are incredible. I thought maybe I had the wrong patient’s labs. I thought maybe our machinery was broken. Your lab work from the fall and from now look like two completely different people.’”
“I knew I felt better but it was reassuring to have the labs validate how I was feeling,” she adds.
With that final piece of the puzzle – old, infected root canals – she cleared the last roadblock to getting better.
Now, as she’s getting back to her active self, she’s able to do more with her sons, ages 15, 13 and 7, and is back to gentle exercise. She walks, bikes, lifts light weights and practices yoga.
“Each day I feel a little bit stronger,” she says. “It’s such a gift and such a blessing to feel well enough to feel active again. I just hired my 13-year-old to be my coach and he encourages me to ride my bike every day.”
And she recently vacationed at the Grand Canyon – a trip that wouldn’t have been possible before.
Getting better took relentless perseverance and faith that it was possible. Her journey took her to nearly a dozen different doctors, which all provided different insights.
“It’s important to get multiple opinions because each doctor provides another piece of the puzzle,” she stresses.
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