Lyme Disease sufferer wants to reach out to others with the illness

Published: Dec. 5, 2011 at 12:52 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 5, 2011 at 11:23 AM EST
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PRICE HILL, OH (FOX19) - To look at Whitney Woodburn, you would never know that she's fought crippling illness for much of the last 12 years.  And it all, she says, was from a tiny bug she never even saw.

"I woke up one day and had rib pain and felt like I had the flu," said Woodburn. "My mom and my doctor were like, you're just growing, its ok."

Whitney was in middle school.  It was not growing pains.  But the pain itself did grow.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that's spread by tick bites. According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms may come and go, and are mostly similar to the flu.  They can also include a rash that looks like a bulls-eye.  If untreated, Lyme Disease can spread to the brain, heart, and joints.

"From there (her onset of illness) it kind of like spiraled and over the next ten years – I got to a point where I literally couldn't walk, I couldn't do anything for myself anymore so my parents were taking care of me," she said. "I got about 20 diagnoses, every doctor here in Cincinnati was treating me for something different. I was on medicine for 20 different things … arthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches, reproductive diseases, like every part of my body was affected."

Finally, she was so debilitated, she says just a few months before she was to graduate from college, she had to quit school.

"I never got to finish because I was so unable to do anything.  At that point is when I actually went to my family doctor because we had actually seen something about Lyme Disease and my mom had suggested I get tested and she laughed at us and told us Lyme Disease didn't exist," she said.

From then on, Woodburn sought out doctors who disagree with the thinking of places like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says the term "chronic Lyme Disease," which is what Woodburn believes she has, is actually a misleading term.  The CDC says that the bacterial infection does not linger after initial treatment with antibiotics, but rather, that it has done damage to the patient's immune system and that is what causes long term symptoms in people like Woodburn.

But Woodburn, and the doctor she now sees, are part of a group that disagrees with the CDC.  She will begin a course of antibiotic treatment this month in hopes of finally ridding her body of the pain and fatigue of the last 12 years.

Nonetheless, she insists she is one of the lucky ones.  During a period of remission, she got married, and had a healthy baby girl, something she was told she would not be able to do.  Now, she wants to reach out to others who are struggling with the same type of thing she has.

"It's made me stronger and now I can advocate for other people," she said.

Woodburn has started a Facebook page to connect with other Lyme Disease sufferers.

The National Institutes of Health has more information on Lyme Disease.

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