Looking forward to a life without pain
November 4, 2008 · Updated 3:49 PM
t Former KHS student plagued by Lyme disease.
POULSBO — She can’t recall a part of her body that didn’t hurt. She thought living with debilitating pain and intense stomach problems was normal.
Throughout her life, Teal Wood, 14, a former freshman at Kingston High, also suffered depression, fatigue, a loss of mental clarity, fevers, rashes, numbness, hair loss and more.
As Teal grew, her ailments didn’t go away. They only worsened.
“Since a kid, I would be in pain a lot. I would hide it a lot. I learned to do that,” Teal said. “I just thought it was normal. The hardest part was people telling me I was just trying to get attention. I remember thinking as a little kid, ‘If I’m faking it tell me how to get it out because I didn’t put it in there.”
Numerous doctors told her, “There’s something wrong, we just can’t figure it out.”
Anne, Teal’s mother, knew something was wrong. Anne thought her daughter’s pain was hereditary.
Anne’s battled fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue for years and both are genetic. She almost lost Teal at birth to Lupus-like conditions. As Teal aged Anne considered maybe it was “teenage changes.”
But Teal rarely complained.
“That’s not her nature,” Anne said. “I checked on her one night and she looked up and said, ‘Mommy my legs and arms are numb. I can’t raise them.’ I went online and I looked up symptoms and I said ‘Oh no.’”
Teal has Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is caused by a nasty bacteria, most often spread by ticks, and won’t go away unless treated. It can be fatal. The illness manifests itself as skin and systemic “flu-like” symptoms, and joint, nervous system or heart complications can occur. According to the Kitsap County Health District, approximately 20,000 cases are reported in the United States each year. In Washington seven to 18 cases are reported annually. In 2007, there were 12 cases of Lyme, and as of Oct. 29 there have been 11 cases reported. In the last five years Kitsap County’s seen two cases.
Teal has probably lived with Lyme since birth. Anne may have given it to her, however, they’re not sure that’s how Teal acquired it. They do know the 25 tick bites Teal picked up over the course of two summers at a camp in Missouri definitely resulted in the life-altering infection. It’ll be years before Teal’s system will be bacteria free.
The week after receiving 11 tick bites in the summer of 2005, she became exhausted. She started to develop flu-like symptoms, throwing up nearly 11 times.
“That was the start of Lyme. Since I was bitten so many times I was hit really hard,” Teal said. “The really bad part of the flu lasted about a week, but I never got fully better like I should.”
Teal returned to the seventh-grade in Scottsdale, Ariz., where she was living at the time.
It was then her minded started to slip, and the girl who was “always” a straight A student, wanting to be an engineer, couldn’t figure out simple concepts. The bacteria of Lyme can move rapidly into the brain and wreak havoc.
“I love math and I couldn’t understand it,” Teal said. “I could memorize really easily and I couldn’t do it anymore. The mental aspect was so scary.”
Teal continued to go downhill, but she’d had such a good time at camp she went back in 2006. Within the first three days Teal picked up an additional 14 or 15 tick bites. A few days later she got a cold, not a typical cold, but one “50 times” worse. Teal said she kept pushing herself through it, she didn’t want to miss out.
“It hit me really hard though,” she said. “I just wanted to fall on my face and sleep.”
Teal and Anne moved to Kitsap at the end of summer 2006, and she steadily got worse. She attended school about 45 days as an eighth-grader. Her hair started to fall out. She got strange rashes and her eyes became bloodshot and puffy. Pain, fatigue and depression were still present.
Finally Teal and Anne found a doctor in West Seattle who properly diagnosed her. She went on antibiotics and got a little better, but not like she should have. And then she got “air hunger.”
“It felt like my throat was starting to close up,” Teal said.
Lyme is often associated with additional bacterial infections. Teal had all three infections, one of which caused the air hunger.
Even with the antibiotics Teal didn’t fully recover. It wasn’t until she fell under the care of Susan Marra, one of the foremost pediatric Lyme specialists in the nation. Marra ran more tests and discovered Teal had the most rare and life-threatening infections. Marra also said Anne probably had Lyme and gave it to Teal at birth.
Anne and Teal’s plight is winding down, but none too soon. Anne’s been drained financially by all the appointments and treatments, and she also picked up one of Teal’s infections. They’re moving to her brother’s in Colorado to rebuild. First they’ll go to California for surgery that will allow Teal to take antibiotics through Intravenous therapy. A tube will be placed in her main artery near her collarbone, which will connect to the antibody IV. For the duration of the treatment — be it six months or years — until Teal’s symptom-free for three months, she’ll be connected to the IV.
Through it all she hasn’t lost her spirit.
“The tube I can kind of stick it in my pocket or I might bling it out and have a necklace,” said Teal, wearing a bright, lime green T-shirt, which read “Ticks suck, and give you Lyme Disease.”
But above all Teal’s anticipating what it might be like to feel “normal.”
“I want to know what it’s like to feel good. I wonder each day what will feel different. How am I going to change? Will food taste different?” she said. “I’m very happy to know what’s going on and I’m very happy I can do something to help other people.”
For more information on Lyme disease, on Nov. 8 in the Bainbridge Island Senior Center Kallgren Room, the Bainbridge Island Kitsap Lyme Support Group will air an informative talk by Marra.
For questions or additional information on the presentation call, (206) 842-4215. To learn more about Lyme Disease visit lymedisease.org, or underourskin.com.