Derek Watts

Derek Watts

Community helps Cedar woman battle Lyme disease

Neighbours, family members and friends sort the empty bottles outside Zaannetta Zaalberg’s Cedar home — hoping that each bottle will help her get better.A bottle drive was started by Zaalberg’s nearest and dearest friends and family after finding out her Lyme disease medication was costing her a fortune.“It’s the most expensive thing I’ve ever drank in my life,” Zaalberg said.The medication she is on is not covered and she pays $660 for a 210 ml bottle — she takes two teaspoons a day.It’s not covered in Canada because it doesn’t fall under the umbrella of treatment here, she said.“But it works. It’s very effective for killing the bacteria.”Zaalberg first noticed her symptoms ­— fatigue, joint pain, weakness and overall sickness — several years ago, and when attempting to seek a diagnosis was disregarded by medical professionals, she said.“I went from an extremely active, on-the-go woman, super positive and it’s taken me down to the point where a couple of months ago I was not walking, not talking and my kidney system was shutting down,” she said. Zaalberg is unable to work — she was a waitress at the Wheatsheaf Pub in Cedar for 11 years — because she can no longer hold anything heavier than a coffee cup.“It’s like the worst flu you’ve ever had along with the worst hangover of your life along with the worst poison through your body.”Lyme disease is triggered by a bite from a bacteria-infected tick, which can cause a ring of redness and tenderness around the bitten area. The tick introduces bacteria into the bloodstream, which, without antibiotic treatment, can cause a complicated, serious illness. Untreated, Lyme disease can affect the joints, heart and nervous system, with chronic pain and numerous symptoms that are hard to treat.In Canada, patients must pass a two-step test.Jim Wilson, the president of the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation, said Canada is two decades behind in research and treatment for the disease.“We’re excluding the vast majority of patients,” he said, explaining that because the two-step test is only an immune test, only people with the visible rash are included.“They took an immune response and applied it across the board.”Wilson said only nine per cent of people exposed to Lyme actually get the bull’s-eye rash.Left with no recourse, Zaalberg did her own research on the Internet.“Something popped up with Lyme on the computer,” she explained. “I had 80 out of 82 questions right. I just fell apart.”After that Zaalberg went to Seattle for testing and was diagnosed with advanced Lyme disease.Wilson said many Canadians have no recourse except going to the U.S. for a diagnosis and treatment.Wilson said one of the main problems with the Lyme disease treatment in this country is the majority of the medical field were given false or misleading information about the disease.“I do see it certainly changing,” he said. “Unfortunately, far too slow.”David Cubberley, the B.C. director of the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation, said he thinks the issue is the guidelines in place deter doctors from detecting the disease.“They don’t think we have it, so they don’t look for it, or they lack the skills or awareness,” he said.A recent study done by the BC Centre for Disease Control stated that physicians in B.C. are knowledgeable about Lyme disease and are diagnosing and treating it.The study looked at 148 respondents, mostly family doctors, who recalled diagnosing a total of 221 cases in 2007 — only 13 cases were reported to the BCCDC that year.According to the BCCDC, B.C. has five to seven cases of Lyme disease diagnosed among the 400 to 600 reports of people being bitten by ticks each year. The BCCDC did not return The Chronicle’s call by our story deadline.The Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation would like to see sufferers of the disease be involved with policy making for the disease in Canada, Wilson said.“There’s no more of an ultimate stakeholder than the victim,” he said.Zaalberg said the disease has infiltrated every part of her life.“To go from a single mom who’s raised her kids to this,” she said. “It takes everything and changes it.”She said she hopes her story will affect change and awareness.“If I help anyone, then I’ve done something with it,” she said. The most frustrating part of the whole ordeal is how pointless it is, she said.“It’s due to a bug bite — I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “All this because I love to garden and I got a bite.”The fundraisers are every third Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at 2942 Cedar Rd.Also an account under the name “Together for Zaan” has been set up at the Ladysmith Bottle Exchange.There are also ribbons, created by friend Dawn Thomson, for sale at the Wheat Sheaf Pub on Cedar Road for $5 or $10.