Undiagnosed and suffering

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. -- Elizabeth Fadling was only 5, but she remembers when she got bitten by a deer tick while visiting relatives in Pennsylvania back in 1985.

Elizabeth Fadling
Elizabeth Fadling and her 2-year-old daughter, Paige, relax at home in Little Falls, Minn. Mother and daughter are undergoing medical care for Lyme disease. (Associated Press)

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. -- Elizabeth Fadling was only 5, but she remembers when she got bitten by a deer tick while visiting relatives in Pennsylvania back in 1985.

She exhibited classic Lyme disease symptoms after the bite but no one figured that out -- specialists at the University of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic and other doctors she saw in Brainerd. It wasn't until last year, after 26 years of suffering from unexplained and debilitating illnesses, that Fadling was finally tested by a nurse practitioner who suspected she had Lyme disease all along. In January 2009, she tested positive for Lyme disease, as well as two other tick-borne co-infections.

Fadling, a 1997 Brainerd High School graduate who lives in Little Falls with her husband, Chris, and 2-year-old daughter, Paige, is hoping that by sharing her story it will help others identify tick-borne illnesses sooner, before they end up in a wheelchair like she is now.

When Fadling was 5, she immediately got a fever and fell ill after being bitten by the tick. She also had a rash, but not at the site of the bite. Doctors told her dad, Dale Rapovich, that she had the flu and possibly a kidney infection. A couple of months later, as a Baxter kindergartner, Fadling's legs and knees began to grow stiff and swollen; her joints ached. She would become so exhausted at school that she'd lie down flat on the floor when she got off the bus, falling asleep while still wearing her coat and backpack.

Rapovich, now a retired Brainerd sixth-grade teacher, tried everything he could think of to get her well. He took her to the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic. Fadling was diagnosed in first grade with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the University of Minnesota.


She suffered from horrible stomach pains, and every test and colonoscopy revealed severe inflammation, but doctors couldn't come up with any explanations. In fourth grade, she was put on antidepressants because her doctors felt she may be causing the symptoms herself.

At 18, she quit taking them, and for the first time, she said she felt she was clear-headed. But she continued to be very sick. Over the years, she has suffered from brain swelling and has been hospitalized many times. In 2004, a Florida oncologist told her she had cancer, or lymphoma. She was later found not to have cancer at all.

She and her husband, Chris, who married in 2005, suffered the loss of two babies during pregnancy. Devastated, they moved from Florida to Little Falls to be closer to family and try to get pregnant again. After a high-risk pregnancy, Fadling gave birth to their miracle baby, Paige, on Aug. 25, 2007. At five weeks, Paige had surgery on her stomach, which didn't open into her intestines, causing frequent vomiting. At 9 months, she was sent to Children's Hospital in Minneapolis and doctors discovered that for some unexplainable reason she had membranes obstructing her ability to absorb food and fluids. She also was born with an enlarged muscle at the top of her heart, as well as a hole in her heart. Her leg bones also twist inward, causing many trips and falls for the toddler.

Paige also was diagnosed with failure to thrive. She began suffering from uncontrollable muscle tics and joint pain, just like her mother.

By last Thanksgiving, months after Fadling was diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease, she realized her daughter was suffering from the disease, too. It was devastating.

"If I had known I had late-stage Lyme disease and I would pass this on to my daughter, I would have adopted. I would never had done this to her intentionally," Fadling said.

Fadling's pregnancy, coupled with the Lyme disease, caused her endocrine system to go "haywire." Her muscle twitches, spasms, night sweats, dizziness and pain grew worse. She couldn't think clearly and would forget things.

Last fall, Fadling began using a wheelchair because of her seizures and chronic leg and joint pain. In December, Paige began going to day care because Fadling and her husband agreed that she could no longer safely stay home with her mother.


Fadling sought out a Lyme disease specialist in New York.

He accepted them both as patients. She has begun an aggressive treatment plan involving intravenous antibiotics. Paige is also being treated.

Fadling advises those who suspect they may have Lyme disease to immediately find a Lyme literate doctor who will treat them.

"Don't wait," Fadling said. "You know your body. If a doctor won't treat you, find a doctor who will listen to you."

She strongly encourages people to use tick repellents with DEET and to spray their clothing with permethrin, which kills ticks for up to three months.

"This is preventable," Fadling said. "This didn't have to happen."

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