'We are living in the bullseye'
● By Richard Gaw
Before the start of Sunday afternoon's Lyme Disease Walk at Crossan Park in Landenberg, an event that attracted nearly 100 participants in order to raise public consciousness of the disease, seven people were seen with black t-shirts reading, "Team Riggin."
The shirts were the symbolic reminder of a four-year journey that Lisa and John Riggin of Ridley Park have been on, one that has seen both of them living with Lyme Disease. Luckily, their young daughter has not been diagnosed, but even that great news does not entirely wipe away the days of concern and pain that the couple lives with.
Lisa was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in 2011, soon after her daughter was born. She started to notice symptoms of dizziness. She was losing her balance. Meanwhile, John went undiagnosed for six years, seemed to live in a constant brain fog, and was slowly losing the ability to use his left leg.
"He took test after test and no one seemed to know what was wrong with him, until he was tested for a second time," Lisa said. "We thought, 'What are we going to do? We have no one to treat us.'"
They eventually found a doctor who has held their disease in check, but it's a huge commitment for both, given that their care requires a two-hour drive each way. a two-hour drive. They also attend regular meetings of the Lyme Disease Association of Southern Pennsylvania, and although Lisa admits that the journey she and her husband are on is a life-long one, they seek solace in the company of others, and together with John's parents and their daughter, they embarked on a mile-long walk with nearly 100 others to raise awareness of the disease.
If there was any sign of a white elephant in the room on Sunday, it was the fact that Chester County is the number one county for Lyme Disease diagnosis in Pennsylvania, a state that has the highest rate of Lyme Disease of any state in the nation.
Doug Fearn, president of the Lyme Disease Association of Southern Pennsylvania, said that according to a Chester County Health Department study, 90 percent of the people in the county who contracted Lyme Disease did so on their own property.
"We're overrun by deer, and one deer can have 3,000 ticks on it," Fearn said. "We've created this ideal habitat for the deer. It's difficult to hunt them, and they have no natural enemies."
Although he said although there continues to be a heightened awareness of these statistics locally, defining Lyme Disease and determining a diagnosis is still a slippery slope.
"There are two very opposite schools of thought about this disease," he said. "One side says that it's over-diagnosed, easy to cure and doesn't really exist. And then what we're seeing in reality is that people who have this disease are really sick and don't get better until they get the proper treatment."
Like the Riggins family, attending events like Sunday's walk serves as a reminder for those with Lyme Disease that they are not alone. Landenberg resident Laurie Kiernan was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in 1986, but instead of retreating into the cocoon of her condition, she joined the Lyme Disease Association of Southern Pennsylvania, and served as the chief organizer for Sunday's event.
"For me, being a part of the organization has been a lifesaver, to be a part of a group of people who have the same issues that I have," Kiernan said. "It gets very lonely when you're battling this disease. When I found this group, I thought, 'I need to help them, because they've helped me.'"
John Auerbach, a supervisor with the Franklin Township – who helped sponsor the event -- said that the township is engineering a way to eradicate the spread of ticks in the community. The township has set up four deer tick treatment stations – at a cost of $1,800.
Recently, a number of other residents expressed an interest in maintaining for additional stations by themselves, and the township board voted to purchase additional stations, which are expected to be deployed in a month. Auerbach also said that there are 32 deer tick treatment stations in London Britain Township.
"I want people to realize that this is a huge issue, especially for where we are," Kiernan said. "We are in the bulls eye, and people just don't realize it. You need to use prevention. You need to understand how sick people can get from this. As one person, I can't make a difference, but as part of a group, we're telling others that this is serious."
The event was also sponsored by Nonantum Veterinary Clinic, IgeneX, Keystone Animal Hospital, Natural Food Sales, Oasis Family Fun Center, and the The Perfect Impression.
To learn more about Lyme Disease, visit the Lyme Disease Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Inc.'s website at www.LymePa.org. Meetings are held every month in Kennett Square.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.