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Living with Lyme disease
MAY 16, 2011

Dawn Gillman of Dassel shares her family’s struggles with finding a diagnosis

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

DASSEL, MN – With May being Lyme Disease Awareness Month, one Dassel mother wants to get the word out about just how prevalent this tick-borne illness is, what the symptoms are, and ways to prevent it.

For the past 12 years, Dawn Gillman of Dassel has had reoccurring flu-like symptoms along with insomnia and dizziness that until two months ago, went undiagnosed.

“The last four years have been really bad,” she said.

For her, symptoms would come and go to where she thought she had just caught some kind of bug.

“I’ve seen so many doctors and specialists to find out what’s going on with me,” she said.

Four years ago, she was given a commonly used blood test known as the ELISA to test for Lyme disease. This came back negative.

Two years later, her 12-year-old daughter, Claire, began experiencing common symptoms of the disease. In May of that year, Claire had a deer tick smaller than the size of a poppy-seed, that was nearly imbedded at the top part of her ear, Dawn explained.

“Now is when [the deer ticks] are really feeding,” Dawn said.

Typically, people will look for a bulls-eye or other type of rash to indicate being bit and infected by a deer tick.

At the time, Claire didn’t have a rash, but she did have swollen glands, which is one of the symptoms during the early stages. Other symptoms can include fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headache, fever, chills, sore throat, or neck pain.

Following the bite, a doctor prescribed seven days on an antibiotic to Claire and said she should be fine after that.

Unfortunately, symptoms persisted throughout the following year.

Dawn decided to seek advice from Julie Goos, a Maple Lake woman who has been diagnosed with Lyme disease, along with her two daughters, one of whom went five years without a diagnosis. Goos’ story can be read at http://thelymemystery.webs.com.

Dawn was advised to seek a doctor, but to demand her daughter be tested with the Western blot, rather than the ELISA, that test may not always detect the disease.

Based on Claire’s symptoms, the doctor did order the Western blot, and despite the negative results of the ELISA test, Claire tested positive for Lyme disease.

Claire’s diagnosis just this past winter encouraged Dawn to have the same test done, which also revealed a positive diagnosis.

They are currently both being treated with long-term antibiotics. Dawn’s 11-year-old daughter Olivia is also awaiting test results for the infection.

In 2009, there were 1,065 confirmed Lyme disease cases reported in the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Exposure to deer ticks occur most often from May to July, and again in the fall.

What upsets Dawn the most is that she may have been infected with the disease before she gave birth to her first child, Claire.

Dawn also wonders if this may have contributed to the five miscarriages she has had, and if they could’ve been prevented if she had been treated sooner.

Oftentimes, people with Lyme disease can develop infertility issues, among many other symptoms that can lead to false diagnosis, Dawn explained.

Currently, Dawn is being treated with an intravenous antibiotic. She also recommends people infected reduce their intake of gluten, sugar, dairy, and alcohol, to reduce the inflammation in the entire body.

“Having a good diet and exercising is very important,” Dawn said, explaining that sweating is very important to kill off the bacteria. She also recommend steam showers or saunas.

“Everyone has a different path to get well,” Dawn said.

As a turkey hunter herself, Dawn cautions other hunters to be protected and take preventative measures since turkey hunting season occurs during May, a prime time for deer ticks.

“I really had to modify my whole life in order to get well,” she said.

For more information, visit the Lyme Disease Association website at www.lymediseaseassociation.org.

Dawn also invites anyone to contact her with questions at (320) 275-4209 or by e-mail at dawnygillman@gmail.com.

Steps to reduce the risk

The Center for Disease Control gives these helpful tips to reduce the risk of becoming infected with Lyme disease.

1. Avoid areas with lots of ticks.

• Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass.

• Take extra precaution during late spring and early fall, when disease-boring ticks are active.

• Walk in the center of the trail when in the woods or high grass.

2. Keep ticks off your skin.

• Apply insect repellent with 20 percent DEET or more on skin and clothing when going outdoors.

• Cover up by wearing long pants, long sleeves, and long socks, tucking pants into socks or boots. It is also recommended to wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be easily detected.

3. Perform tick checks.

• Remove any ticks from clothing before going indoors. It is also suggested to wash clothes in hot water and dry them using high heat for at least one hour.

• Check your body and your child’s body for ticks after being outdoors, even in the yard. The CDC suggests using a mirror to view all parts of the body including armpits and behind the ears.

• Safely remove ticks by using a fine-tipped tweezers and grabbing it close to the skin, without twisting or jerking the tick. Twisting or jerking may cause the mouthparts of the tick to break off and remain in the skin.

After removing the tick, wash hands (gloves are even suggested) and clean the tick bite with an antiseptic such as iodine scrub, rubbing alcohol, or soap and water.

Also, contact a healthcare provider if the person develops a fever, headache, fatigue, or rash.

4. Control ticks around the house and yard.

• Remove leaf litter and brush from around your home and at the edges of lawns. Place wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas.

Also, mow and clear lawn of brush regularly.

It is also recommended to keep playground equipment, decks and patios away from yard edges and trees.

• Apply pesticide to control ticks. A single application to the lawn at the end of May or beginning of June can reduce the population of black-legged ticks, known to carry disease, by 68 to 100 percent.

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