Local woman's trip to Cyprus for Lyme Disease treatment
A documentary which was broadcast on RTE One recently - 'Living with Lyme Disease' - highlighted the debilitating impact of the condition and the fact that Irish patients who suffer from it generally have to travel abroad to access suitable treatment.
It's a story Athlone woman Shirley Moran Breslin knows only too well, as she has been living it for several years now. The Garnafailagh native contracted the disease after being bitten by a tick in 2010.
The effect it's had on her life has been devastating. Shirley has suffered a range of symptoms including exhaustion, memory loss, night sweats, and severe pain.
She worked with FAS (in a role now under the auspices of the Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board) but has been unable to work since 2015 due to her ill health.
During the summer, she and her husband Enda travelled to Limassol, Cyprus, where she underwent a new and varied programme of treatment at the Neomed clinic over a period of six weeks.
Between travel, accommodation and treatment, this cost approximately €15,000. Shirley spoke highly of the treatment she received and she said it has led to improvements in her health.
"Over the last week – touch wood – I feel good. I wouldn’t run a marathon or anything, but I do feel good," she told the Westmeath Independent.
"I spent the majority of the time from December to May in bed. I was practically bed-bound that whole time, so to go from that to this is great."
The trip to Cyprus was not her first time leaving Ireland for medical reasons. Between 2015 and early 2017 she travelled on nine occasions to a clinic in Czech Republic to receive specialised treatment for her Lyme Disease.
She "responded well" to the treatment in the Czech Republic, which involved heavy doses of intravenous antibiotics and intensive physiotherapy, but the clinic then closed in 2017.
"I was pretty devastated when that happened because I didn’t know where to turn," said Shirley.
She tried alternatives, such as kinesiology and hyperbaric oxygen treatments, but to little avail. Her fatigue was getting worse and, as she was turning 40 this year, she decided it was time to seek new intervention.
After carrying out online research on the progress of some patients of the clinic in Cyprus, she decided to sign up for its course of treatment.
She and Enda booked Airbnb accommodation and travelled to the island last summer. They met a number of Irish patients who had done likewise, including a mother and daughter from Mullingar who were both being treated.
"Gruelling" is how Shirley described the treatment, which took place each day from 9.30am to 5pm.
"You did an infa-red sauna, physio, magnetic therapies, and they worked on your gut to try to repair any damage that was done by antibiotics. So by doing that they were depleting your immune system and getting it to start from fresh."
Every second day she underwent a treatment - ozone therapy - which she likened to a 'cleaning' of her blood.
"They hook you up to the machine, your blood comes out, fills up into a little bottle, and they keep shaking it so it won’t coagulate. They put in blood thinner as well.
"Once that’s in, the gas goes through it and pushes the blood back into your body. And you would do that ten times in an hour.
"Again, it’s meant to help your immune system. It cleans bacteria, and ‘sterilises’ your blood before it goes back in. You could have a litre and a half done in an hour."
She also received intravenous nutrients, phsyio treatment, and different forms of massage.
"It was really varied, every day, and they would never tell you today what would be done tomorrow. There were colonics and enemas, and all that kind of stuff too.
"The big thing was to detox, so that when you’d have the work done on your blood they would really want to work on detoxing you so you could get whatever bacteria was dying to flush out of your system.
"I was shocked when I went out there because they are so far ahead (in their methods of treatment)."
Shirley returned to Ireland in mid-July. In general, her health has been better than before but she remains vulnerable to bugs and infections.
"I still have that fatigue, where there’s days I just can’t function. I can do little bits (of housework) now, but I still have to pace myself," she said.
Shirley's trip to Cyprus was funded with the assistance of family, friends, and a 'Go Fund Me' donations page.
She and her husband are currently living in Carna, Kiltoom, and she expressed gratitude to Billy Kelly, of the Lecarrow Benevolent Fund, who approached her out of the blue, upon her return from Cyprus, to offer support through the fund.
"They are so good, and we would really like to thank them," she said.
She believes awareness of Lyme disease is growing, but said the HSE needs to "up its game" in terms of devising a proper system for diagnosing and treating Lyme Disease in Ireland.
Shirley was advised by the clinic in Cyprus to wait six months after her course of treatment before assessing whether or not she would need to return.
She feels that it's likely she will have to go back to Cyprus for more treatment at some stage. She is optimistic by nature and is hopeful her health can improve over time.
"I’m hoping that I’ll get stronger, that my immune system will start to fight this, and that I can manage it.
"If my immune system got up to a decent level it would mean I could get a bit stronger and do a little bit of exercise, because at the minute I can’t. I can’t go for walks or anything like that. I can’t even sit in the car for long periods of time.
"To get back working part-time is my ultimate goal. That and to just become normal again!" she said.