I'm about to do something pretty gnarly and I’d be grateful for your support! After being mostly housebound for nearly 2 years due to neurological Tick Borne Illness, I will be walking (to the best of my ability) in the Scottish Highlands to raise awareness of global Tick Borne Illnesses and their impact on our military forces. After a solid 21+ year Air Force career, I was medically retired due to several chronic ramifications of my illness. I am deeply concerned that other service members, military family members, and veterans are going undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, and under-treated for global Tick Borne Illnesses.
I am hiking in honor of The Dean Center for Tick Borne Illness at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. They literally saved my life and, through their comprehensive support of my recovery, they have given me a quality of life worth living. The Dean Center for Tick Borne Illness is a specialized clinical and research program for individuals with impairment and disability related to Tick Borne Illness. The goals of the Dean Center are to improve the care and function of patients with Lyme disease and other Tick Borne Illnesses by focusing on individualized treatment, ongoing education, and emerging science. Your donations through this fundraiser will go directly to the extraordinary work of The Dean Center, who are in the business of saving lives, and livelihoods, every single day. My goal is to raise $6,000, which equates to $1,000 for every year (6 years) that me and my family have endured these pathogens.
Specifically, from June 6-13, I will join fellow allied Wounded Warriors (US/UK/Canadian Wounded, Injured, and Ill) for a week of camaraderie, recovery, and healing. I will be participating in several events as part of the Allied Forces Foundation (AFF) team, to include “The 2018 Cateran Yomp” along the Scottish Highlands. This an annual event in which participants take on 22, 36.5 or a challenging 54 miles in just 24 hours across the Scottish Highlands. To be clear, there is no way I will be able to make 22 miles. However, like several of my fellow Wounded Warriors, we will go as far as we can, with each other’s support. Yes, this is going to hurt my body for a bit, but it will be good for my spirit. I firmly believe there are countless service members (US and Allied), military family members, and veterans who are enduring undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, and under-treated global Tick Borne Illnesses. Help me support the important work of The Dean Center, as their research and contributions to the emerging science will directly help my military tribe, as well as our civilian counterparts. Thank you for your donation!
Read on for details of my personal story:
If you had asked my husband or me a year ago if this trip would be possible, we would have been skeptical. In fact, nearly 2 years ago we were approaching a hopeless resignation to the constellation of multi-systemic symptoms that had attacked my body. Simply put, I was dying. Whether I would have ever met a physical death at the hands of my illness will always be debatable, but I can assure you I was severely and completely disabled, with no meaningful quality of life. As I quickly approach the two-year anniversary of my diagnosis, treatment, and start of my recovery from neurological Tick Borne Illness, I feel compelled to share my sincere thanks to The Dean Center. I cannot fathom what my life would be like today, if not for their skill and efforts.
Just 5 months ago, I was medically retired from a promising 21+ year career in the USAF. Prior to my complex illness, my personal life and military career had been extraordinary. I was a combat proven fighter pilot, a graduated Fighter Squadron Commander, I had flown as a pilot with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, served as a White House Fellow, and was an advisor to the First Lady of the United States, and I had even run a marathon while in good health. I first noticed something was wrong in 2012 while serving as commander of the 333rd Fighter Squadron. Prior to a documented Erythema Migrans (EM) rash (indicative of Lyme) in June 2012, I was perfectly healthy. Within weeks of the EM rash, my health would begin to decline, thus beginning a year’s long journey of medical decline. Following a subsequent documented tick bite, and a CDC positive Lyme disease diagnosis in August 2013 (14 months after my first EM rash), my medical issues grew exponentially and grew to impact every system in my body.
I began experiencing numerous symptoms, including intractable pain, insurmountable fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, memory problems, and speech impairment, which would progress over the next four years to include disorientation, confusion, anxiety, and temporary paralysis. These symptoms significantly impaired my ability to serve my country in the US Air Force, as well as my ability to provide for my family. I became dependent upon my husband as my primary caregiver. Despite access to both military and civilian physicians, identifying the root cause of these symptoms was exceedingly difficult and unnecessarily prolonged. My concerns were initially dismissed as originating from being overstressed; however, the symptoms persisted and progressed.
In the end, it took over 4 years, 24+ doctors, and multiple misdiagnoses before I was accurately diagnosed (with several Tick Borne pathogens) at the Dean Center for Tick Borne Illness in Boston, Massachusetts. After receiving an accurate diagnosis and available treatment, I was able to regain the abilities to stand and walk safely, read, and speak intelligibly. I still deal with several lingering symptoms, but I now have a quality of life worth living and I am again independent.
Despite moderate improvement after my diagnosis, the battle is not over, as I need continued medical treatment and am still on my road to recovery.
I am deeply concerned about the inadequacies in diagnostic testing and treatment options for patients with Tick Borne Illness, especially among military and veteran communities, due to the high risk of exposure to global vectors. I am, unfortunately, a very real example of the shortcomings in both the civilian and military medical systems with regard to Tick Borne Illness. As well as a concern for public health, Tick Borne Illness is a military readiness issue and must be treated as such to do proper justice to the men and women in uniform.
I standby, ready and willing to join forces with anybody at the Department of Defense and/or Department of Veterans Affairs who want to help attack global Tick Borne Illnesses head on.