St Albans woman’s mysterious illness attributed to ticks

PUBLISHED: 12:03 18 September 2011

Valerie Barr. Suffers from Lyme Disease.

Valerie Barr. Suffers from Lyme Disease.

WHEN a St Albans farmer’s wife discovered she was suffering from a debilitating disease spread by ticks, it wasn’t the two GPs she saw who established the condition.

Nor was it the chest specialist, the heart surgeon, neurologist or even an ear, nose and throat specialist she subsequently saw.

It was a close family friend who, upset at seeing Val Barr barely able to walk, had the nous to trawl through internet sites until the myriad symptoms came to just one conclusion - Lyme disease.

Her assumption was confirmed when Val, 55, had further tests and was finally diagnosed by a doctor specialising in that field at the Breakspear Medical Group’s private clinic in Hemel Hempstead – two months after falling ill.

A grateful Val, of Dane End Farm, St Albans, who was extremely fit, active and healthy before being infected, credited her friend: “She saved my life.”

She now wants to warn others to be on the alert if they, too, suspect they have been bitten by a tick to seek immediate treatment.

In April 2010 Val attended a point-to-point course at a hunt in Northaw.

She said: “Through the day I starting getting a headache and feeling nauseous. As the day went on that got progressively worse. I woke up with severe chest pains as well and severe flu-like symptoms.”

A doctor sent Val to Luton and Dunstable Hospital to investigate whether she had possibly had a heart attack, or a blood clot.

Despite extensive tests the hospital couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong and sent her home.

Val said that her symptoms included severe, crushing headaches and low blood pressure. The back of her hands and top of her feet felt as if someone was digging them with needles, because her nervous system was affected.

She saw a chest specialist who investigated her lung function.

Val said: “It was like tunnel vision. His conclusion was that I should go to a physiotherapist to be taught how to breathe because I was hyperventilating.”

There are 76 possible symptoms of Lyme disease, of which Val had 55. Val asked the chest specialist whether she might have the disease but he dismissed her fears.

Val added: “I felt quite upset and patronised.”

Undeterred, her friend stepped in again, contacted a Lyme disease support organisation and was told about Breakspear.

There, Val was finally diagnosed and immediately put on antibiotics.

More than one year on, she takes a whopping 32 pills a day; a combination of antibiotics and medication to support her immune system. She said: “I’m feeling a lot better, not back to normal but my energy levels are returning.”

The keen horsewoman warned that people can be bitten anywhere as the ticks themselves do not just live in “hotspots”.

Fellow sufferers at Breakspear, including one from Harpenden, told Val they had been bitten while gardening.

Val said: “It is totally debilitating. It stops your life dead in its tracks. Be aware. If you see a tick, take it off immediately.”

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