An Untreated Tick Bite Made Her the ‘Bionic Woman’


Oct. 7, 2022 — Exploring the woods, mountaineering, summer time camp, and common journeys to the canine park had been all regular actions rising up in New Jersey. Meghan Bradshaw described herself as a wholesome, lively younger lady with an affinity for the nice outside. However issues modified when she started having sporadic, unrelated well being issues like exhaustion, dizzy spells, and body aches. After seeing all kinds of medical specialists to uncover the foundation of those points, her lab outcomes had been at all times inconclusive.  

Unbeknown to Bradshaw and her docs, her sickness stemmed from a parasite. Bradshaw had contracted Lyme disease, a bacterial an infection that may come from the chunk of a blacklegged tick — also called a deer tick — if it stays hooked up to your physique for 36 to 48 hours. Signs can include memory loss, joint pain, drooping muscle tissues on one or each side of your face, and tingling or numbness of your physique components. 


Bradshaw’s well being continued to worsen as she bounced from the East Coast to the West Coast in her early 20s for work as a retail supervisor at Nordstrom. It wasn’t till she took a job promotion in Nashville that her sickness turned debilitating and left her bedridden. She might not carry out on a regular basis duties like holding a toothbrush or washing dishes. 

Bradshaw’s knees started filling up with fluid. Her physician recognized her with rheumatoid arthritis, which is the closest factor he might consider to clarify her “thriller” sickness. She needed to have her hips replaced at 26 years previous.

“It [the disease] was deteriorating each joint in my physique,” Bradshaw, now 29, says. “I used to be a shell of myself. It was terrifying.” 

One specialist referred Bradshaw to a practical drugs physician, who started asking questions on her upbringing. Upon discovering Bradshaw was from New Jersey, the place blacklegged ticks are extraordinarily common, her physician requested a query that modified every part. 

“Have you ever ever been examined for Lyme illness?” 

Bionic Girl

Quick ahead a couple of years. Bradshaw has now had 16 of her joints reconstructed and eight joint replacements, all due to the late detection of Lyme illness. She is getting ready to have each elbows changed, alongside together with her second surgical procedure on every hand, all of which ought to be accomplished inside the subsequent yr. Hopefully then, she’ll “catch a break.” However there’ll seemingly be extra surgical procedures down the street to switch her joint replacements, she says. 

Bradshaw’s expertise is extraordinarily uncommon for Lyme illness sufferers, says Glenn Gaston, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at OrthoCarolina in Charlotte. Solely a small variety of Lyme illness sufferers develop arthritis, particularly if it is handled early, says Gaston, who operated on Bradshaw’s fingers. If a affected person does get arthritis, it normally solely impacts one joint, which is usually the knee.

“I’ve by no means even heard or learn in a textbook a case to the diploma of Meghan’s, of getting to have a number of joint replacements and a number of surgical procedures, notably at such a younger age,” Gaston says.

When requested why Bradshaw’s Lyme illness analysis remained a thriller for thus lengthy, Gaston says the illness might be arduous to detect.

“The most important cause I see for delayed detection and therapy of Lyme illness is primarily as a result of it’s not usually within the forefront of the minds of clinicians, notably relying on the place a affected person lives,” he says. “In the event that they stay in Connecticut, which is the place Lyme illness comes from (Lyme, Connecticut), it’s extra believable that they’re going to consider it early. The additional you get from the epicenter of the analysis, the much less physicians give it some thought of their differential.” 

In case you take away the tick earlier than 48 hours, you seemingly gained’t get the illness. Ticks might be as small as a poppyseed, so recognizing them might be arduous. However one main signal of a tick chunk is a rash that appears like a bull’s eye. In case you catch it early, Lyme illness might be handled and cured with antibiotics. However with late detection (like Bradshaw’s), therapy and restoration change into far more troublesome. Excellent news: A vaccine to deal with Lyme illness is currently in part III scientific trials with drugmakers Pfizer and Valneva. 

Dwelling on what life might have been like if, early on, docs had requested questions on her upbringing has been one of the crucial troublesome issues for Bradshaw to return to grips with. 

“I’ve extreme medical trauma and I relive it each 3 months after one other traumatic surgical procedure,” she says. “It’s always going by the grief cycle.” 

Bradshaw is usually nicknamed the “bionic lady,” which she finds endearing.

“I exploit humor as a coping mechanism,” she says. “I’ve to giggle about it. As a result of if I don’t giggle, I cry, and that is more healthy for me.”

Newfound Goal

Nice well being care is one main supply of gratitude for Bradshaw. Her surgical procedures and medical care have racked up over $1 million {dollars} of medical prices, of which her insurance coverage lined the bulk, and she or he paid the remaining out of pocket. Bradshaw usually speaks publicly in regards to the lack of entry to high quality well being take care of sure marginalized communities, like LGBTQ+ people, immigrant teams, and folks of shade.  

“I’m very lucky I’ve had entry to enchancment of my circumstances,” she says. “Lots of people don’t have a way to an finish.”

Whereas it could possibly be simple to change into indignant, and even resentful, for her late analysis, Bradshaw has shifted her focus towards tick-borne illness consciousness advocacy, which has been “very therapeutic” for her.

“I can look in hindsight and see all the issues that had been fallacious in my path and on this expertise,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Right here is the way it ought to be. And right here’s how we are able to repair it.’ I need to be aside of that.” 

Bradshaw just lately co-founded a nonprofit group, Tick JEDI Coalition (JEDI stands for “juvenile instructional protection initiative”) that strives to place tick security schooling into mainstream well being science curricula. 

“Youngsters ought to be studying this [tick safety] as a elementary life talent, the identical method they study handwashing,” she says.

Meghan’s Ideas

To assist keep away from late detection of Lyme illness, or every other sickness, Bradshaw offers the following pointers. 

You understand your physique higher than anybody.

“Medical doctors are extremely good, proficient, and educated about many issues. However on the finish of the day, everybody remains to be human. There could also be instances that you’ve one thing that’s past the scope of their data. If the physician you see will not be the fitting match, and you’ll be able to entry care elsewhere, do your analysis and discover somebody who could also be a great match.”

Make the most of affected person assist teams.

“I feel there’s rather a lot you may be taught from different people and their experiences, each good and unhealthy issues. I discovered them extremely useful in my very own expertise.”

Have a assist particular person.

“There have been many instances, particularly originally of my journey, the place I used to be so emotionally distraught coping with this stuff. My mother and father had been there to take notes and absorb every part for me. Have a assist particular person as a result of it’s arduous to do this stuff alone.”

Editor’s be aware: This is extra data on Lyme disease .


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