LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - When Tammy Farmer gave birth to her son, Logan, her life changed dramatically, but not in the usual way.
Without knowing it, Farmer was a carrier of Lyme disease, and it wasn't until she went through the physical stress of childbirth that she began to experience symptoms like excruciating pain and cognitive impairment. Because the tick-borne bacterium that cause Lyme disease can pass through the placenta, Logan was infected before he was born.
As Farmer left the hospital with her newborn, she began the battle of her life, not only fighting for her and her son's health, but also for other victims of Lyme disease by volunteering for Kansas Lyme Fighters Inc.
Lyme disease can cause a wide array of health challenges that range from gastrointestinal to neurological to musculoskeletal, making it easy to misdiagnose. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the 328,128 cases of Lyme disease that were confirmed between 1990 and 2008 represent only 10 percent of the actual cases of Lyme disease, according to the Lyme Disease Association. In fact, Farmer was misdiagnosed for seven years with baffled doctors telling her she had everything from multiple sclerosis to lupus.
At times, she was so devastated by the illness that she couldn't function. "At my lowest moments, I was in bed, incapacitated, because it hurt so badly. It hurt just to have someone walking on the carpet outside my bedroom," Farmer said.
Farmer and Logan were finally diagnosed three years ago and started aggressive antibiotic treatment. While she still has bad days, she's beginning to recover. And she's using her newfound health to help others who suffer from tick-borne illnesses through a nonprofit group she helped to found, Kansas Lyme Fighters. Her volunteer work has been so transformative in the lives of people who battle Lyme disease that the organization nominated Farmer for the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center's 2010 Wallace Galluzzi Outstanding Volunteer award.
In addition to helping raise awareness of tick-borne illnesses, Farmer runs support groups and works as an advocate. But mostly, she comes alongside those who are sick and offers them support and encouragement.
"Tammy's strength is building community," said Peggy Blumhagen, president of Kansas Lyme Fighters. "She has opened her home to multiple people who were suffering and created an environment of acceptance, comfort and love. Tammy rarely shares how she feels except when it helps to encourage people who are about to give up on their life. When they realize how much she is suffering also, they gain courage and strength to keep trying to get well."
Farmer shrugs off the praise. "After something so devastating has affected my family's life, I couldn't help but help others," she says. "I was sick for years before it was figured out, and that's not uncommon at all. It happens to people all the time, and their lives are as devastated as mine was. Or worse. I had family to support me, but I know a lot of people who don't.
"When you go through something like this, you narrow down what is important in your life. People are important, and that's what makes life go around. Making them feel better, even for just a moment."
Information from: Lawrence Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com