A decade ago Steve Young didn’t know what Lyme disease was but now his family has been living its effects for too long.
A decade ago Steve Young didn’t know what Lyme disease was but now his family has been living its effects for too long. TREVOR VEALE

Family in battle with NSW Health

WHEN Steve Young's wife came home from work 10 years ago the happily married couple had no idea their world was about to be turned upside down.

While working for the National Parks and Wildlife Service in scrub at Emerald Beach, Natalie Young was bitten by 110 ticks. Those bites sent her health into an almost immediate downward spiral.

According to Steve, Natalie became irritable and anxious; her muscles and joints ached; her cognitive functions - including her memory - became affected; her balance was disrupted and she was easily tired.

A decade later and Steve is now aware that his wife, and eventually he and his beautiful five-year-old daughter, Matilda, were affected by Lyme disease.

It took a long time for the diagnosis to be made.

"She (Natalie) went to the doctors and there was no mention of Lyme disease at that stage, and there still isn't - simply because of the government stance on it, NSW Health basically," Mr Young said.

"Queensland Health, if you look at their website, says that Lyme disease can be contracted from ticks, no controversy about whether it's in Australia or not, they just say that it is."

It's believed in most cases, the infection and its symptoms are eliminated by antibiotics, especially if the illness is treated early.

Delayed or inadequate treatment can lead to the more serious symptoms, which can be disabling and difficult to treat.

Almost four years ago Steve himself contracted Lyme disease.

"I got a tick off Natalie one time," he said.

"She came home so fatigued with 50 or so on her and I woke up next morning with one in the centre of my back.

"About three months later I started to get pains in muscles and joints, my cognitive functions started to fail and the sensitivity to light and the issues that struck Natalie started to happen with me."

Interestingly, the disease only became apparent in 1975 when mothers of a group of children who lived near each other in Lyme, Connecticut, made researchers aware that their children had all been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

This unusual grouping of illnesses that appeared "rheumatoid" eventually led researchers in 1982 to the identification of the bacterial cause of the children's condition.

"We knew something was wrong but Natalie had been to see 13 different doctors here in Coffs Harbour and also in Sydney, and I'm talking neurologists as well, and they all refused to accept or even contemplate the idea that it would be Lyme disease," he said.

"If they did go to the NSW Health website it would say there's little evidence that it occurs in Australia."

The doctors had diagnosed Natalie with such ailments as motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and lupus.

One doctor diagnosed Natalie with psychological issues but Steve refuted that after coming home one day to find his wife lying on the floor in her vomit with their two year-old daughter trying to help her.

"Psychological issues? I think not," he said.

Now the entire family suffers from the infection after their daughter Matilda, was born with it.

It wasn't until the family came into contact with Dr Jennie Bourke in Sydney that a key to unlocking the puzzling medical issues became available. That led to an appointment with Dr Peter Mayne in Laurieton.

"He diagnosed her (Natalie) with advanced chronic Lyme and started her on treatment, but because she was so far progressed, there was already a lot of damage done," he said.

That was three-and-a-half years ago and although still very ill, Steve is proud to say his wife has had "dramatic improvement in that time".

Dr Mayne's treatment of Steve's symptoms means he's still able to work as a driver with Ryan's Bus Service.

Each day is still a battle though and Steve admits that without the help of family and friends the three of them would have a greater struggle on their hands than what they already have.

"Natalie's parents have been up looking after her and looking after our little girl because she's physically incapable of doing it,"

"This woman once came third in the women's open Australian championships surfing at Margaret River, but now wouldn't be able to walk to the end of the street."

Steve is working overtime to ensure Lyme disease is recognised by health officials.

"My campaign is to get the recognition that this disease deserves here in Australia so people can go to the doctor and get the diagnosis and the treatment early so they don't get to the chronic stages," he said.

"Also to look at getting some testing procedures here in Australia that are accurate and work.

"Once we get the recognition then doctors will feel more freely clinically diagnosing. Clinically diagnosing can be 90 to 95% of the battle."

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