Cape Breton woman healed of Lyme disease

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SYDNEY — Boulder climbing is one of Melissa Boutilier’s favourite hobbies these days.

But it wouldn’t be if the Lyme disease she had, which led to her being wheelchair bound within a year, remained undetected.

“I will always have too high of a heart rate because of what happened. Just because of when I got sick and I got pericarditis. It’s always going to be too high so I do still take one pill,” said the 33-year-old who is originally from Port Caledonia.

“Other than that I don’t even think about being sick anymore. It’s not even on my radar, which is amazing because I was told multiple times that would not happen.”

Now living in Halifax, Boutilier was 25 when she contracted Lyme disease in 2015. At the time she was happy in her career, about to close on her first home, doing triathlons and biking the Cabot Trail.

A year after her symptoms started in August 2015, Boutilier needed to use a wheelchair. Along with suffering from extreme fatigue, she also had severe joint pain, brain fog and painful rashes.

ROOT CAUSE

As reported in the Cape Breton Post, Boutilier spent two years trying to get help locally. While her family doctor was compassionate and did what they could, Boutilier felt the five specialists were dismissive and uninterested in determining the root cause and focused on treating one symptom at a time.

With Lyme disease being a multi-symptom autoimmune disease, this approach didn’t work. None of the medical professionals were able to get to the root cause. Some were dismissive. Something she believes happens with other people suffering from chronic illnesses.

“My rheumatologist locally there in Sydney, he told me to take a vacation,” Boutilier said.

“I was covered head to toe in these burning, rashes that were welting. They were pulsing, they were so hot and sore, and I was covered head to toe in them and his response was ‘take a vacation.'”

After being connected to Maine-based Dr. Robert Dubocq in 2017 at a Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation conference in Halifax, Boutilier started her recovery. Dubocq took her on as a patient and within a year of the treatment plan he created, Boutilier was 95 per cent symptom free and walking again.

When Boutilier knows if she hadn’t found Dubocq, she might still be sick because she had fallen through cracks in the medical system. Five years later, she wonders if others still are.

SYMPTOMS IGNORED

A part of many social media groups for people with Lyme disease or who think they might have Lyme disease, Boutilier sees many people struggling for a diagnosis in Nova Scotia like she was.

“Lyme disease is such a weird thing in Canada. In the U.S., it’s totally recognized that there are ticks around, they carry disease and they can make you sick. And we are supposed to look out for certain things,” said Boutilier.

“In Canada, when you are told to go to the doctor, the first thing that they are going to say is ‘Do you have a bull’s-eye rash?’ And if you say, ‘No,’ they’re going to say ‘Well, we don’t have the kind of ticks here that carry Lyme disease so don’t worry about it.'”

A Nova Scotia Health spokesperson provided information to the Post via email.

“As per the IDEG (Infection Disease Expert Group) guideline, for early Lyme disease, testing does not necessarily help,” said communications adviser Brendan Elliott.

“It is a clinical diagnosis and treatment is started on the basis of the physician making a clinical diagnosis.”

Boutilier didn’t have a bull’s-eye mark, like many others who contract the disease or it’s not visible because it’s on the head hidden by hair or gone by the time they seek medical treatment.

According to the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, symptoms from a tick bite infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is typically in three to 30 days. Severe symptoms typically take weeks to months.

RISK PROVINCEWIDE

The first confirmed case of Lyme disease in Nova Scotia was 2002 and the first confirmed in Cape Breton was 2014. Advocates believe there have been unconfirmed cases years before.

A Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness 2012 report on Lyme disease epidemiology and surveillance said there had been a total of 120 cases provincewide since the first one 10 years earlier.

According to the Department of Health and Wellness, there were 830 confirmed or probable cases of Lyme disease in Nova Scotia. They were unable to provide the numbers for 2020 and 2021 before publication time.

Nova Scotia Health was able to collect data regarding confirmed or probably Lyme disease diagnoses at the end of emergency room visits in the different zones. They are:

Eastern Zone

2020 – 9

2021 – 10

2022 – 0

Northern Zone

2020 – 48

2021 – 144

2022 – 10

Western Zone

2020 – 324

2021 – 886

2022 – 23

Central Zone

2020 – 78

2021 – 158

2022 – 45

Nicole Sullivan is a diversity and education reporter, who sometimes covers the health beat, at the Cape Breton Post.



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