Telegraph and Argus Tuesday 2nd August 2016
This feature about me was in the Telegraph and Argus today, creating awareness about my recently diagnosed condition of Chronic Lyme Disease. I strongly recommend you read the article and spread the word...
LISA Vallo can remember the exact moment she noticed a tiny insect bite on her stomach. It was a bite that turned her life upside-down, leaving her often bedridden over the past 14 years.
“I was lying on my bed at home in Baildon,” says Lisa. “My cat was lying on the bed, and I noticed a black thing on my tummy. I thought it was a bit of dirt and tried to flick it off, but it wouldn’t move. I tried to prize it out with my fingernails but it still wouldn’t move. Eventually I pulled it off, I was bleeding and could see the legs of this creature wriggling. It was a tick, and I had no idea the damage it could cause.”
Lisa went on to develop flu-like symptoms, and over the years she felt increasingly worse. “I lived in France for a few years and thought I’d feel better in the sunshine, but I developed a serious Vitamin D deficiency and had bouts of anaemia,” says Lisa, 48. “My legs felt heavy and really hurt, I was in my thirties but felt tired all the time. I had chest pains, and often I’d spend 85per cent of my week bedridden.”
It was while watching an interview on ITV’s This Morning programme last year that Lisa finally realised what was wrong with her. Businessman and Phones 4u co-founder John Caudwell was talking about his experiences suffering from Lyme Disease.
“He and several members of his family have Lyme Disease and he’s set up an organisation campaigning for more recognition, and better access to treatment,” says Lisa. “When I heard him talk about his symptoms I just knew I had Lyme Disease too.
Lyme Disease is caused by a spirochaetal bacteria, usually from a tick bite. Ticks are particularly present in woodland or heath-land areas, as well as urban parks and gardens. Symptoms can start with a ‘bull’s-eye’ rash, and go on to include flu-like feelings, fever, sore muscles and a stiff neck. Left untreated, the infection can spread around the body, leading to possible musculoskeletal, cardiac, dermatological and neurological problems.
According to Lyme Disease UK, there are around 1,000 confirmed cases occur in the UK each year, but Public Health England estimates this could actually be around 3,000. Campaigners claim the figure could be closer to 50,000 cases per year.
Despite being tested three times, Lisa’s condition remained undiagnosed. “My doctor kept telling me I didn’t have Lyme Disease, but I knew my symptoms. When I saw John Caudwell on TV, everything slotted into place,” she says. “Many people with Lyme Disease get mis-diagnosed with ME or even Alzheimer’s Disease. It can attack various parts of the body, and if it reaches the heart it can be fatal.
“So many cases are missed in this country, because there’s not thought to be much of a risk in the UK. If diagnosed quickly it can be cleared up within weeks with antibiotics, but left untreated it can lead to all sorts of problems - costing the NHS much more in the long run.”
Lisa, now living in Bingley, researched the condition and became frustrated at the lack of testing available. “Eventually I sent a blood sample to a lab in Germany where, like America, they’re much more advanced with testing, diagnosis and treatment of Lyme Disease. Last week I was finally diagnosed with it, after 14 years of suffering,” she says. “I felt like I’d won the lottery! I’d reached the end of my tether trying to convince people I had it - but I had to go private to get a diagnosis. If it hadn’t been for my parents’ support, I couldn’t have done that.
“My life has been turned upside-down with this. I can’t make plans to go out, even to the supermarket, because I never know how I’m going to feel.”
Lisa’s illness has affected life at home with her children, Ysabella, 13, and Conor, 21. “They know I can’t plan anything,” she says. “I haven’t been able to do the school run, some days I couldn’t get out of bed.
“The chances of me getting rid of it are slim but now I’ve started treatment, privately, I’m slowly re-building my life. I have electro-magnetic treatment, I’ve changed my diet - I don’t have carbohydrates because the bacteria thrives on it - and I take supplements, vitamins and antibiotics.
“Treatment should be on the NHS, testing should be more in-depth, and diagnosis should be quicker,” adds Lisa. “If you go straight to a doctor after being bitten, Lyme Disease can be detected in the blood. Undetected, you can have it for years, causing permanent problems.
“Some members of the medical profession claim there is no Lyme Disease in this country. Well, I’m here to tell you there is. People need to be aware they can catch it going on walks in long grass, even sitting in their garden.”
Lisa has been raising awareness of Lyme Disease, and the fight for testing, online. “I came across a woman whose Lyme Disease attacked her heart. If she hadn’t eventually got help, she wouldn’t be here now,” she says. “Before my diagnoses I felt like I was fighting the system. At times I felt I was going mad.”
A professional artist, Lisa finds painting theraputic. “I’m not always well enough to do it, but I’m doing some commissions and plan to build on that,” she says. “Thanks to all the campaigning, I’m hopeful that testing in the UK will improve in the next two years, but there’s a long way to go.
“It took a long time for me but finally, through treatment, I feel I can finally take control of Lyme Disease - rather than it controlling me.”
* Lyme Disease UK, a patient support network, has the following advice to reduce the chances of contracting the disease from bites:
Carry a tick removal tool at all times, if possible; use a repellent when engaging in outdoor activities; take extra precaution in long grass, leaf litter and wooded areas; when hiking, try and stick to pathways with less long grass; wear a long-sleeved top and tuck trousers into socks to reduce skin exposure, (light-coloured clothing may enable you to see ticks more easily); if in a high risk area or taking part in a high risk activity, buy pre-treated clothing from outdoor clothing shops; check yourself, your children and pets regularly for ticks and brush off any that are unattached; if you see an embedded tick, remove it as quickly as possible using the correct tick removal technique; have a shower and check yourself thoroughly for ticks; if you become unwell or notice a rash, see your GP.