CHATHAM - Chatham resident Ryann McIntire used to be sure she understood all there was to know about Lyme disease. "I thought you got a bite from a tick, you got a rash then took meds and it was over." That was until her own personal battle with Lyme began and she started to realize the elusive nature of this pernicious disease.
Her first step was trying to pin down what was wrong with her. McIntire grew up in Chatham and graduated with the Chatham High School Class of 2013. Active in field hockey as well as basketball and softball in high school, McIntire was a student at the University of New Hampshire in the spring of 2016 when she began to experience multiple debilitating symptoms. The aches and pains were hard to pin down and grew worse; she saw several doctors and even was given two Lyme panels to test for the disease.
She left in the fall for Australia for a study abroad program and her health continued to deteriorate. By October she was forced to return home, where she again underwent a series of doctor visits and tests. "They did the Lyme tests as a precaution, because I never had the rash," she recalled. "They thought my symptoms were stress related."
In December 2016 a friend who was concerned about her symptoms suggested she be tested for Lyme again, and this time a Western Blot test for Lyme was administered, McIntire said. "That came back very positive."
Meanwhile, McIntyre was feeling worse and worse. "It's chronic pain that affects all parts of your body," she stressed. "There are seemingly unrelated symptoms that are confusing, frustrating and painful." Her family was relieved to finally have a diagnosis for her symptoms but "we didn't know where to begin," McIntyre recalled.
A search for doctors was initially unproductive, as many were no longer taking new patients. In September 2017 McIntyre made a connection with Bock Integrative Medicine in Red Hook, N.Y. which specializes in treating chronic conditions like Lyme disease. McIntyre learned that along with Lyme she had contracted a host of other tickborne diseases including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Since she never had a rash, it is difficult to determine exactly when she was bitten; however medical personal have told her that the significant damage to multiple organs and joints she has experienced might mean the exposure took place as long ago as elementary school.
In addition to a heart condition, McIntire has experienced brain trauma including severe short-term memory loss. "I was recently driving on Crowell Road, which is near my home," she recalled, "and I forgot how to get home. That was super scary!"
McIntire's life is on hold as she continues treatment and heals, she said. "I am significantly better but it's a tough road," she said, adding she was grateful for her doctor's support. As she recovers, McIntire is determined to raise awareness about Lyme disease and its prevalence here on the Cape.
On Friday, July 13 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., she has organized a "Surf Movie Night" on Harding's Beach in Chatham to show the movie "Given" about a family's quest for surf. Food Trucks from Chillers and the Big Squeeze will be on hand and tickets to a Red Sox game will be raffled off. All proceeds from the event will be donated to The Global Lyme Alliance, an education and research organization.
"The disease is so frustrating," McIntyre said. "It's like an invisible illness. You can look fine but you are dealing with so many confusing symptoms." Her doctor has now given her hope.
"Because it went untreated for so long, there is definitely damage and symptoms that will flare back up," she said. "But I hope to get back to traveling and surfing," she added. And she hopes to be able to finish college and pursue her goal of working in the nursing field, focused on treating Lyme disease.