When Jennifer Reid returned to her car after running errands in her hometown in Connecticut and realized she couldn’t remember how to go home, she knew something was wrong. When she told her doctor about her short-term memory problem and complained about being exhausted all the time, the symptoms were blamed on early menopause.
But then her oldest daughter, who had started college, called home saying she had trouble concentrating and experienced extreme fatigue. Doctors attributed her symptoms to adjustment to college, growing pains and rebellion. It was nothing to worry about, doctors said.
It took almost a year for Jennifer and her eldest daughter to receive the right diagnosis and two years to return to good health. They both tested positive for Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread through the bite of the black-legged tick, which picks up the bacteria when it feeds on mice or other rodents infected with Lyme disease.
Just as life was getting back on track for Jennifer’s family, her middle daughter went from being a straight-A high school student to being unable to focus on course work. Fatigue ended her athletic activities. Facial palsy and high fevers were clues that Lyme disease was once again attacking a family member.
Lyme Disease Changed Everything
Having an active lifestyle, that included camping, horseback riding, gardening and throwing backyard birthday parties – all activities Jennifer and her family loved to do – increased their opportunities to be exposed to ticks. The Reids, like many people infected with the disease, never saw ticks on their bodies, but all experienced, at some point, some of the same symptoms: fatigue, chills, fever, general ill-feeling, headache, light-headedness or fainting, muscle pain, and stiff neck.
In the case of Jennifer and her daughters their diagnoses came so late in the course of their illness that each experienced more serious neurological complications including decreased concentration, memory disorders and sleep disorders. This was particularly true for her middle daughter, who was unable to recover after taking extended courses of antibiotics. She suffered health consequences for more than 10 years that drastically impacted her performance at school and young adult life.
“Had I known how serious Lyme disease can be, I would have been far more diligent about looking for ticks and spraying the yard in our everyday life, not just when we went camping or hiking,” Jennifer said. “Lyme disease changed everything in our lives. It became so debilitating that we had to change our diets and activity levels. The medical challenges and financial impact were substantial. It was a nightmare.”
Changing Others’ Lives
After her daughters were infected, Jennifer started meeting more and more families with Lyme disease. She decided to do a seminar through Girl Scouts with another mother whose daughters were also infected. Then, she started receiving calls from people in her community asking how they could learn more about preventing Lyme disease. In 2003, she and her friend co-founded the Ridgefield Lyme Disease Task Force. Jennifer and other advocates meet monthly to discuss ways to share information with their communities by holding seminars, running support groups and attending health fairs.
In 2008, they received a grant from the Connecticut Department of Public Health to create the BLAST (Bathe soon after, Look over your body, Apply repellents, Spray the yard, and Treat your pets) program aimed at raising awareness of the most effective Lyme disease prevention practices, as well as to educate the community about the early stages and signs and symptoms of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases to promote timely diagnosis and treatment.
Today the program, established as a nonprofit, holds an office at the Ridgefield Health Department, and Jennifer, as Community Coordinator, continues to make a difference in other families’ lives.
“I’m very excited to be making an impact,” Jennifer said. “But we need to do more in order to spread the word so that families can do something to prevent and fight Lyme disease.”
As Jennifer celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Ridgefield Lyme Disease Task Force, she experienced another milestone this Mother’s Day. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Community Health from Western Connecticut State University. With her new degree, she will continue her fight against Lyme disease by helping other moms and families prevent and identify the disease.
For additional information on how to protect your family from Lyme disease visit: DebugTheMyth or Connecticut Department of Public Health’s BLAST Lyme Disease Prevention Program. In addition, Jennifer recommends the Tick Management Handbook by Kirby Stafford, Ph.D., Vice Director and Chief Entomologist, CT Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven.