Two farmers from Co. Donegal who were struck down by Lyme Disease are sharing their experiences to raise awareness of the infection.
Lyme Disease, a debilitating bacterial infection, is contracted from tick bites meaning that farmers and other rural dwellers are particularly at risk.
Charlie Harkin from Carndonagh and Peter Patton from Letterkenny both endured the mystery illness for years while struggling to lead normal lives and to maintain their farms.
They both battled for diagnoses and have come out the other end, and will go on national TV in the New Year to share awareness of Lyme Disease.
An upcoming episode of Ear to the Ground on 3rd January on RTÉ One will visit Charlie and Peter in Donegal, who are both members of the Donegal Lyme Disease and Co-Infections support group. The episode will also hear from Tick Talk Ireland and Dr Jack Lambert, a consultant in Tropical Medicine who has set up a Lyme Resource Centre in the Mater Hospital.
Charlie Harkin (41) from Ballylosky’s illness went undiagnosed for years. The 41-year-old suckler and sheep farmer said he wouldn’t wish the disease on his worst enemy.
Charlie told Donegal Daily: “I lost many years of my 30s. All I wanted to do was go out and work, earn a wage, support my four daughters.
“I’m 85% better now, I can’t seem to pass that mark but I’m hopeful.
“It was scary at my worst.”
Charlie says he believes a ‘miracle’ happened on the day that he discovered what Lyme Disease was.
He said: “There was a tractor broken down in the back street for a month. But I didn’t have the energy to fix it. One day I went out to it, but I had no grip in my hands and the spanner kept dropping.
“I hit a low, I was angry with myself, but that day, my wife came home with a phone number for Dr Lambert. I think someone was looking out for me that day.”
Charlie got his diagnosis in August 2014. “That was like winning the lotto, I was delighted someone gave me a name to this. I was buzzing,” he said.
Charlie’s treatment involved high doses of supplements and antibiotics for years, which are costly.
Through the Donegal Lyme Disease and Co-Infections support group, Charlie helps to offer support to others who are concerned they have the disease.
He said: “Our page is only small, but we have over 140 people in Donegal alone.
“I’m on the phone if anyone needs me. It’s good to be able to chat to someone who understands.”
Peter Patton from Letterkenny also features in Ear to the Ground to share how his livelihood suffered during the testing time.
The 50-year-old farmer from Magheraboy found there was no support during the worst of his illness.
Peter was hospitalised for two months with pain, headaches and seized joints. Doctors suggested that he should get a psychiatric assessment.
“I left hospital on a cocktail of drugs, but no diagnosis,” Peter said.
“My wife Michelle never stopped searching for answers. She found Ann Maher from Tick Talk Ireland on Facebook and that was the first time we heard about Lyme Disease.
“I got tested with ArminLabs in Germany and when the results came back, they were sky high with bacteria in the blood.”
Peter went private for treatment and, with the help of Dr Lambert, started an antibiotics programme to get back on the road.
“I have Dr Lambert to thank for everything. Nobody else would believe me, and that is a horrible thing to go through,” he said.
Peter says awareness of Lyme Disease is improving in Ireland due to community campaigns, but it should be top of the mind of every farmer and person who works outdoors.
The illness hit Peter so badly last year that he had to sell his flock of 85 ewes. He had his diagnosis and had started treatment at that time, but the antibiotics were slow to take effect and his health wasn’t improving well enough for lambing and running a farm.
Peter says he’s thankfully almost back to good health. “I would tire very quickly, but I’m what you would call near-normal,” he said.
The New Year episode of Ear to the Ground focuses on health and wellness in the countryside, airing Thursday 3rd January 2019, 7:00 PM, RTÉ One
Note the poster below from www.ticktalkireland.org on Lyme Disease prevention and detection.