(Josh Stilts / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

DALTON -- Shaun Delaney didn't have any of the symptoms. No rash, no "red bullseye," nothing. He didn't think anything was wrong when he woke up one morning last June with a tick attached to his abdomen.

"I only started freaking out when I couldn't get its head out," Delaney said. "I tried all the methods but nothing worked, so I used tweezers."

It was a decision he said he regrets.

Delaney, 35, wasn't able to get a good grasp on the insect's head and instead of plucking it from his flesh, he ended up squeezing all the liquids the tick had stored in its sack into his bloodstream.

"I thought I was informed. I couldn't have been more wrong," he said.

Over the next six weeks, Delaney started to experience joint pain, muscle weakness, spasms and twitching. His brain seemed to malfunction. He was forgetting things. At times forming words and sentences seemed as impossible as lifting a bus.

Fits of vertigo crept up out of nowhere. He had to stop driving, which led to further exhaustion of his already spent muscles.

He couldn't work, couldn't think, couldn't move. He had to move out of his apartment in Pittsfield and back in with his parents.

Delaney was infected with Borrelia burgdorferi -- Lyme disease -- an infectious disease spread by the bacteria secreted from the tick bite he suffered while working outdoors.

Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that thousands of people are bitten by ticks on a daily basis, with only a small percentage attracting Lyme.


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Of those bitten, less than 10 percent are said to attract Lyme disease, and more than 80 percent fully recover from the neurological effects.

Delaney was in the other 20 percent. Essentially bedridden for the past seven months, he was determined to fight the infection wreaking havoc on his body.

When walking down the stairs seemed as easy as rapelling down Mount Everest, Delaney was confined to his bedroom, a prisoner in his own body.

"It's painful to remember how lonely it was," he said. "The isolation of illness left me with few friends. Being immobile becomes habit ... I had to plan my day around when I thought I'd have enough strength to walk down the stairs ... just talking exhausted me."

If Delaney hadn't been diagnosed with Lyme disease when he was, it could very easily have led to his death.

"Very few people who have it as bad as I do return," he said. "It's a reality you have to acknowledge but not one you have to accept. I have to keep hope that I'm going to get better."

After several treatments didn't work, Delaney was losing what little hope remained until he spoke with a friend about eight months ago who introduced him to Jennifer Baer, a nurse practitioner in Chatham N.Y., who specializes in Lyme.

Shaun Delaney points to the scar left from a tick bite he suffered about a year ago.
Shaun Delaney points to the scar left from a tick bite he suffered about a year ago.

Baer, who sees roughly 700 people per year, said Delaney had one of the most advanced and debilitating infections she'd seen. She quickly put him on a weekly intravenous therapy of antibiotics and herbs mixed in a high dosage of Vitamin C.

"Vitamin C is good for any kind of chronic illness, but especially Lyme," she said. "When it's given in a high dose, it's converted into a pro-oxidant, almost like hydrogen peroxide, which alkalinizes in the body."

According to Baer, the Borrelia bacteria can't live in a highly alkaline environment and although it doesn't directly kill the infection, it destroys its habitat.

Since then, Delaney has shown vast improvement regaining most of his motor skills and cognitive abilities.

"He's doing amazing," Baer said. "I really questioned if he was ever going to get better."

Although Baer does what she can to keep the cost of the treatments as low as possible, Delaney's insurance doesn't cover any of the $150 cost per visit, so he has to rely on loved ones.

"That's what they don't tell you about chronic illness. It bankrupts you," he said. "I sustain myself on the charity of friends and my family. My strength is returning so my spirit is high and there's hope again."

Delaney has been studying his disease extensively in the hopes to tell others about his treatment, how well it's helped him and how to better fight Lyme.

He says his story serves as a lesson to others to get checked for Lyme -- and to not give up until they find a treatment that works for them.

To reach Josh Stilts:
jstilts@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6243
On Twitter: @JoshStilts