Tick-borne illness

How Lyme disease changed one med student’s life

Shelby Anderson, OMS III, endured years of painful symptoms after being infected with Lyme disease. Now she’s working to educate others about the illness.

Shelby Anderson, OMS III, was 8 years old when she fell ill. A lingering sore throat gave way to excruciating headaches and joint pain so severe she couldn’t walk.

After several months of worsening symptoms and doctor’s appointments, Anderson’s mother, a registered nurse, suggested what turned out to be the correct diagnosis: Lyme disease.

Anderson is currently a student at Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (WesternU/COMP) in Pomona, California. In this edited conversation, she shares her story and discusses her efforts to raise awareness of the disease.

Becoming a DO

Having Lyme disease played a huge role in my choice to study osteopathic medicine. I’ve been a patient my whole life, so I understand how painful and scary it can be. I chose DO school because I feel the connection between mind, body and spirit is really important to getting a person well.

Shelby Anderson, OMS III, eats a lime as part of the #LimeforLyme challenge she helped start to raise Lyme disease awareness. (Photo provided by Student Doctor Anderson)

As a physician, you have to really listen to your patients—they’ll tell you what’s wrong with them if you can pick up the clues in what they’re saying. Many Lyme disease patients, including me, have experienced not being believed when they present with symptoms, which is something I really hope to change.

Speaking out

For a long time, I didn’t want to talk about the disease. I was so angry about being ill, and it was already my whole life. But once I entered medical school, I saw an amazing opportunity to reach out to all these enthusiastic future physicians. I shared my story as part of an infectious disease and immunology class I was taking, and the response was overwhelmingly great. My classmates were so genuinely interested and said hearing my story had really impacted them.

I also worked with friends at WesternU/COMP to start the #Lime4Lyme challenge last year, which was inspired by the ALS ice bucket challenge. Participants take a photo or video of themselves eating a lime slice and donate to the Bay Area Lyme Foundation to support research on Lyme disease treatment and diagnostic testing. We’ve gotten a lot of response from the Lyme community, which has been really neat, and we’ve raised over $4,000 so far.

A ‘life-changing’ diagnosis

Lyme really is a life-changing disease. It took a long time for me to come to terms with my situation—it’s not ideal, but it’s doable. I still hurt daily, at times quite badly, and it makes everything in my life a lot more difficult. I’m grateful to have had amazing doctors who treated me extremely kindly and compassionately, and who didn’t give up. I’m still not well; it’s a very difficult disease to be cured from once you get to the stage I’m in, but I hope one day there will be a cure.

9 comments

  1. This is a great story. As someone who also was infected with Lyme disease I would like to speak to Student Doctor Anderson about furthering education and discussion about this problem.

  2. I am glad that more lyme awareness is happening at medical school level. They should be lyme literate physican give lectures at COMP. Sorry I am in West Virginia that I can not help teaching at Pomona. I am also sorry to see that they put standard ISDA post lyme syndrome brochure on your do article. If you want to learn how to treat Lyme go to ilads conference.
    Nori Onishi DO class of 1999

    1. Dr. Onishi,

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, I am in agreement with ILADs as well. My hope is to try to create awareness, change and research funding.

  3. If you want to learn more about Lyme and how to treat it, go to an ILADS conference or get an ILADS Doc (LLMD) to lecture. Read Dr. Richard Horowitz’s book, “Why Can’t I Get Better”. Lyme is epidemic and in every state of the US now.

  4. I’ve heard about a new ultraviolet machine called the UVLRx that’s being used for Lyme patients. It uses a fiber optic thread which is inserted directly into the vein and the treatment lasts for an hour, so all the blood is treated. Has anyone tried this?

  5. Hi..challenged by Lyme..4yrs..hx as holistic RN…now 64…Bb viable at -59 F…Cryo therapy…-249 F…Dr. Oz week before last…currently living in rural NY state…CA progressive..should be readily available..and worth investigating..IMHO…you are on the right path.Kathryn

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