Group aims to take bite out of Lyme

Diane Beiswenger checks “yes” on a dinner-date proposal from her husband, Jerry, Monday afternoon at Maybrook Hills. Jerry was paralyzed after he was bitten by a tick and infected with Lyme disease. Mirror photo by Sean Sauro

Lime green was the color of awareness Monday afternoon inside Maybrook Hills Health and Rehabilitation Center, where a crowd gathered to discuss the growing risk of Lyme disease.

Monday was Maybrook Hills’ first Lyme Disease Awareness Day — an event organizers like clinical nurse liaison Crystal Burgoon hope to repeat each year.

“It’s a nasty bug,” said Burgoon, who was diagnosed with Lyme disease. “We need to step up and be aware.”

Among those in attendance was Amber Altiero, a nurse and member of the Altoona Area Lyme Disease Support Group.

There, she displayed numerous pamphlets about the disease and its treatment.

Lyme disease can be transmitted to humans through several species of deer ticks. When a tick bites, the disease can be transmitted into a host’s bloodstream.

Once infected, a person with Lyme disease can experience symptoms that range from aches and fatigue to severe symptoms, such as memory loss and partial paralysis.

Maybrook resident Jerry Beiswenger’s symptoms were severe.

“A lot of this is just a blur,” he said Monday, sitting in a wheelchair at the event.

Last October, Jerry Beiswenger spent some time in a nearby wooded area, and four days later, he started to experience symptoms, his wife, Diane, said.

They started with discolored urine and muscle aches, then progressed to severe back pain, Diane said.

After several trips to a number of doctors, Diane said she began to research her husband’s symptoms, which led her to Lyme.

“I said, ‘Oh Jerry, this has to be Lyme,'” she said, explaining she later found a dead tick in their house.

However, it was hard to convince area doctors, the Beiswengers said.

“No, not hard,” Jerry Beiswenger said. “Impossible.”

After many visits to other medical centers, doctors at Johnstown’s Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center gave a correct diagnosis — but not before Beiswenger suffered from tick paralysis and had to be placed on devices to help him breath and eat.

Only recently, Beiswenger has regained his ability to eat, as well as partial use of his arms, he said. He also was able to stand for a short time

The October incident was Beiswenger’s first encounter with a tick, he said.

“It was the first time,” he said. “I hope it’s the last.”

At the event Monday, a green-shirted Beiswenger asked his wife to a dinner date, it will be their first since his paralysis.

Altiero said her organization aims to educate others, hoping to prevent infection, while also seeking better diagnosis and treatment methods for those already suffering from Lyme disease.

Pennsylvania has led the nation in confirmed Lyme disease diagnoses for the past six years, Altiero said.

“Testing is unreliable,” said Altiero, who was diagnosed with Lyme 20 years ago and still experiences symptoms. “The number of actual cases is at least 10 times the number of reported ones.”

She estimates that 50 percent of Lyme cases are misdiagnosed due to unreliable tests, which also are costly.

Jim Beauchamp of the Sinking Valley area said he was tested four times before he was diagnosed with Lyme disease, which attacked his heart to the point where he needed surgery.

“Deer tick populations are growing greatly,” said Beauchamp, a member of the Altoona Area Lyme Disease Support Group who hopes to educate others about the disease.

Beauchamp and Altiero also asked those in attendance to sign a petition and write letters to local lawmakers, encouraging them to support legislation to improve access to Lyme disease diagnostics and treatments.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.