A mum has been left almost bedbound after she was bitten by a tick at a family barbeque.
Simtee Few, 32, from Harlow, Essex, was bitten by a tick - a small blood-sucking bug resembling a spider - as she relaxed in the garden with her family and her two children.
But months later, she started to develop flu like symptoms, palpitations and a tingling sensation that was so bad, she thought she was having a stroke.
Doctors struggled to provide her with a diagnosis, but after almost a year of tests, she was told she had lyme disease – a bacterial infection spread by ticks, that can lead to extreme fatigue and neurological problems.
Now, in a bid to control her symptoms, Few wants to go to Germany for treatment, to try to improve her quality of life.
“I had never heard of lyme disease and had no idea something as tiny as a tick would turn my life upside down,” she said.
During a hot summer day in July 2015, Few, her finance manager husband, Laurence, 49, children Emily, four, and Oliver, three, were playing in the garden where they then lived, in North Edmonton, north London, with friends and family at a barbeque party.
Although she didn’t feel anything, Few looked down and saw a tick on her right foot.
She explained: “I just looked down and I happened to see it, but I didn’t really know what it was. I tried to brush it off, but it wouldn’t go. I pushed it with my finger really hard, which I now know is the wrong thing to do. I wish I had known the proper way to pull a tick out, because I could have stopped this.”
In order to prevent lyme disease, all parts of the tick’s body must be removed using tweezers, but Few had left the head of the tick under her skin.
Thinking nothing off it, the next day Few went to work as customer service assistant and although the area was swollen, she had no other symptoms.
“There wasn’t any pain and I didn’t have a rash, which is sometimes the first sign of lyme disease, so I just went to the chemist and got some cream for insect bites,” she said.
But just two weeks later, Few started to experience more severe symptoms and booked an appointment with her GP.
She said: “I started getting flu like symptoms, general fatigue and panic attacks during the day, to the point where I was begging my husband not to leave me on my own with my kids.”
But while waiting on an appointment and increasingly worried about her health, Few did some research.
She said: “I had started googling my symptoms and lyme disease came up. I had never heard about it, but I remembered the tick bite. The swelling had gone down and the bite wasn’t noticeable at that point.”
When she mentioned it to her GP, she was told it was unlikely, but the doctor agreed to an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay blood test which checks for the antibodies related to lyme disease.
She also researched treatment at the private Breakspear Clinic, specialising in environmental disease but when the NHS results came back negative, it put Few’s mind at ease and she decided not to proceed with private treatment.
But her condition continued to deteriorate and by December 2015, Few was becoming increasingly unwell.
She explained; “I woke up a few times during the night with a tingling sensation and numbness. I thought I was having a stroke. It was so scary.
“I couldn’t talk, I had a stiff neck, heart palpitations and my left leg became so weak and heavy, I was struggling to walk.
“I had to resign from my job, because I was struggling to cope. It was awful, but I put it down to the stress of moving house a few months earlier.”
By January and February, she was experiencing migraines and dizziness so severe, she was almost bedbound.
“It was like someone was squeezing my brain,” she said. “It was so bad, it was affecting the way I was talking and I couldn’t put sentences together. It was like I was drunk all the time and getting up every day with the worst hangover.
“I went from going to a boot camp three times a week and running to raise money for Cancer Research, to not being able to walk down the stairs. It was something that was very difficult to explain.
“I was studying for forsenic accountancy exams at the time but I had to put that on hold because I was just too ill.
“In the July, almost a year after the tick bite, I went to drop my husband at the train station, with my kids sitting in the back of the car. After five minutes, I had to phone him and ask him to come back, because I couldn’t work out how to start the car. My mind just blanked out. I knew there was something really wrong.”
Turning to the internet again, Few’s research kept bringing up lyme disease and she read that tests for the condition are not always reliable.
Desperate for answers, she paid £1,000 for tests at the private Breakspear clinic.
She was shocked when, this time, the results came back positive.
She said: “I was sort of relieved that I at least knew what was wrong with me, but it was also devastating. I had two kids to look after and I was trying to stay strong for them. I’d been telling myself that it was just a phase and it would go, but now I knew what it really was.”
The only treatment available on the NHS for lyme disease is a course of antibiotics, which must be administered in the first two weeks after being bitten.
Sadly, it was too late for Few and her only option was to try private treatment.
She and her husband remortgaged their home to pay for treatment, which included pulsating antibiotics - where the antibiotics are given at a very high dose at regular intervals.
Although the treatment has helped to control some of her symptoms, she is still very unwell and now takes 60 tablets a day and has to stick to a strict diet of organic produce, cutting out gluten, dairy and sugar to help to reduce the inflammation.
She said: “The treatment has been great but there is better treatment available abroad because research there is more advance.
“We are fundraising for alternative treatment in Germany through GoFundMe, because I want to reduce the number of tablets I am taking to lessen the strain on my organs and have a better quality of life. There is a high level of metals like nickel and mercury in my blood, which are also doing damage.
“They will build up my immune system using a cocktail of vitamins and hope that it will make my body start to heal itself but they will also look into stem cell treatment.
“There is no cure for lyme disease, but I am determined to do everything I can to control it.
“I want to raise more awareness of the condition. It’s so important that people know what to do if they are bitten by a tick, because that can stop it and it’s crucial for people to get antibiotics in the first two weeks, as that can stop it in its tracks,” Few continued.
“After the first two weeks, the disease becomes so much more difficult to manage and without treatment on the NHS, anyone who has this ends up a bit lost.” she said.
To donate to Few’s GoFundMe page, visit gofundme.com/yepsm8-lyme-disease.