Butte County, CA
Infected: late 1990s
Diagnosed: December 2014
Current health: still suffering through treatment
I am ready to take back my life. —Briana B.
Briana encountered challenges just after entering the world. Shortly after her birth, she had cerebral anoxia and had to be resuscitated, an incident which left her with permanent cerebral palsy (CP), a major movement disorder that can affect coordination, reflexes, and muscle tone, as well as sensation, vision, speech, and hearing. But Briana was a fighter and with effort and the support of her family, she was able to have a “normal” and happy childhood.
Until she was 9. Then things began to change, quickly. She began experiencing severe breathing and digestive issues that were initially diagnosed as asthma and later acid reflux. When she was 14 years old a head injury triggered a series of new symptoms including migraines and structural joint pain, particularly in her neck and back. She had trouble sleeping and eating. There didn’t seem to be an obvious cause or solution — every treatment (and she tried both traditional and alternative medicines) “helped for a little while but eventually faded and the pain would return.” She struggled through high school and then university, eventually completing her senior year of college from home as it was too painful to go to school every day.
Three years ago, just after graduating from university, “the pain became horrifically intense.” Briana’s nerves felt like they were on fire. Her body seemed to be under attack. Every sound, sight, and smell was too strong, too overpowering, and sometimes just simply painful. “Drinking water felt like knives throughout my whole body. I had migraines, was nauseated, had respiratory issues and acid reflux, could barely walk, couldn’t talk, couldn’t think … and eventually couldn’t eat. “
In fact, she didn’t eat for almost six weeks, which landed her at Stanford Hospital in the summer of 2012. Just 75 pounds, highly undernourished and sleep-deprived, Briana faced her second near-death experience and was given just days to live. Despite the prognosis, the doctors were unable to determine the root cause and sent Briana home. Days later she was fortunate to connect with her current doctor, Dr. Sergio Azzolino, a chiropractic neurologist from San Francisco, whom her mom had found through extensive independent research.
Dr. Azzolino diagnosed Briana with a neurological disorder. He explained that the entire right side of her brain wasn’t working properly and began treatments to “rewire” that part of her brain. While Dr. Azzolino suspected a potential bacterial infection, unfortunately Briana’s condition was so severe that any effort to test for the pathogen had to be deferred until her health could be stabilized. For the past three years, Briana has continued under the care of Dr. Azzolino and Dr. Ken Stoller, traveling to SF for several days of treatment each week. It took almost a year but slowly she gained weight and began making improvements.
There have been highs and lows throughout the year but last fall the pain again became intense and they stopped seeing improvement week to week. Briana was tested again for Lyme disease in December 2014 and this time it came back positive (a 2013 test had been negative). No one knows for sure how Briana got Lyme disease — doctors suspect it may have been passed from her mother during pregnancy (her mother is currently waiting to get her own test results back). Briana’s cerebral palsy is certainly a unique complicating factor as well.
Unfortunately while the positive test does point to an explanation — left untreated, Lyme bacteria or spirochetes will spread throughout the body causing immense suffering and damage to the nerves, brain, muscles, and joints — it has not made the situation easy to resolve. Briana is now on medication to fight the Lyme bacteria but continues to have symptoms including heart palpitations, shortness of breath, extreme chemical sensitivity, “brain fog,” nausea, migraines, and muscle pain. Every week she travels to SF for more treatments, hoping to one day put all of this behind her. Some weeks the pain and the side effects of the Lyme medication are too severe and she has to step back but she reflects that “this month has been good and I have reason to hope.”
Explains Briana: “I am done with feeling pain. I am ready to take back my life.”
With the help and support of her family, Briana has started a campaign entitled “Take Back My Life,” that is designed to create awareness and collect contributions to help defray her mounting medical expenses. She is also eager to connect with other Lyme patients and to build community and share experiences about the challenges of facing this disease every day. As part of the campaign, they launched a t-shirt design contest. Visit the facebook page to learn more about how you can enter the contest and join Briana’s campaign and community.
You can also read more about Briana in these articles from the Chico News & Review:
- When Life Gives You Lyme, by Meredith J. Cooper, 4/25/15
- Back from the Brink, by Christine G.K. LaPado-Breglia, 7/25/13