EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD Isabelle Parish should be completing the HSC with her classmates, but instead she is battling a disease health professionals claimed didn’t exist in Australia.
In 2011, while camping with friends from boarding school in the Pilliga Forest, a tick lodged itself on Isabelle’s back.
She was struck down with severe flu symptoms not long after and developed a rash on her back that resembled a bullseye – a telltale sign of Tick Borne Lyme Disease.
It was a disease Isabelle was completely unaware of at the time.
Nine months down the track, the usually vibrant teen knew there was something severely wrong with her.
“I was hallucinating, I couldn’t concentrate or barely read,” Isabelle said.
“I got to the stage where I could hardly walk and my whole body was in pain.”
The family made the trip to Sydney to find help for Isabelle, but specialist after specialist told them it couldn’t be Lyme Disease – it simply did not exist in Australia.
“One doctor actually told me to leave the surgery as there was no Lyme Disease in Australia,” Isabelle said.
“Other doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me and thought I could possibly have Lupus or anxiety, or that I just imagined it.”
The family said if it wasn’t for programs such as the 7.30 Report and Today Tonight, they wouldn’t have known about Lyme Disease.
In Sydney, Isabelle met someone who had similar experiences and referred her to a specialist, who believed in the illness.
Tests were undertaken and sent to the USA, which came back marked positive.
Isabelle was officially diagnosed a year after she was bitten by the tick and went through nine months of serious antibiotic treatment and penicillin injections.
“It’s a serious illness and I want to create awareness and let people know it really does exist in Australia,” Isabelle said.
“I’m lucky because I treated mine early enough.
“Not many people know about it and I would hate for someone else to have to go through what I went through – I just can’t wait to feel my normal self again.”
Isabelle’s mum Natasha said the disease has disadvantaged her daughter’s life.
“She is lucky none of her organs are damaged, but her neurological, central nervous and immune systems have been affected,” Natasha said.
“It will be hard for her to get rid of it, but she will – it will just take quite a while.”
The family is bearing the brunt of medical costs, including testing and treatments, which adds up to thousands each month.
A month ago an Australian test confirmed the potentially fatal disease, and Isabelle is currently on another three months of treatment and regular blood tests to treat Chronic Lyme Disease.
Isabelle said every day is an uphill battle.
“It seems to lie dormant and monthly it flares up,” Isabelle said.
“It comes and goes, but mostly I am just so tired, my eyes are sore, but I’ve improved a lot and I’m just focusing on managing the last stage of the illness.”
“I just want people to realise how damaging it is and that it is real.”
People, especially campers should learn the correct procedure for removing a tick and should always check for ticks and bites when out in the bush.
Up until six months ago, health authorities denied the existence of Lyme Disease in Australia, but NSW Health is currently researching the disease.
Tick-borne Lyme Disease is caused by the bacteria borrelia, which is passed to humans by infected ticks.
It can cause a myriad of symptoms – including skin problems, arthritis, neurological, cardiac and opthalmological issues.
For more information about Lyme Disease go to www.lymedisease.org.au