Sarah’s tick bite legacy

Jackson Lavell-LeeBusselton Dunsborough Times
Email Jackson Lavell-Lee
Sarah Donnelly and here parents Ted and Robyn will travel internationally for treatment on her for tick borne illness
Camera IconSarah Donnelly and here parents Ted and Robyn will travel internationally for treatment on her for tick borne illness Credit: Jackson Lavell-Lee/Busselton-Dunsborough Times, Jackson Lavell-Lee

Busselton resident Sarah Donnelly is well acquainted with pain after suffering from a tick-borne illness for 13 years.

In 2007 the esteemed landscape architect was conducting a site visit at the proposed Manea College in Bunbury when she realised a tick was attached to her neck.

She immediately treated the site with diethyltoluamide but it took days for the tick to come off, spreading potentially harmful infections through her bloodstream.

“I went through so many doctors to try and find out what was wrong with me but was finally diagnosed, by an open-minded doctor, with a Lyme-like illness in 2014,” she said.

“I have been turned away from emergency departments and hospitals because my test results didn’t show anything. They referred me to the Psychiatric ward and I’ve been told it’s all in my head.”

According to the Department of Health, the species of ticks that carry the bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes Lyme disease in other countries has not been identified in Australia.

Ms Donnelly and her family took matters into their own hands and sent blood samples to Germany and the US.

The blood sent to the US returned with a positive reading.

Sarah Donnelly has suffered from a tick related infectuous disease for 13 years after suffering a tick bite at work
Camera IconSarah Donnelly has suffered from a tick related infectuous disease for 13 years after suffering a tick bite at work Credit: Jackson Lavell-Lee

Symptoms of tick-borne illnesses vary depending on the patient, and for Ms Donnelly it began with pain, vomiting and fatigue and has now resulted in chronic fatigue syndrome and discoid lupus.

Kyle McManus Foundation founding director and infectious disease researcher Dr Mualla McManus said doctors and patients needed more education on what illnesses ticks could carry because symptoms varied depending on the tick’s local environment.

She said if bitten by a tick, remove it immediately and request antibiotics from a GP.

Dr McManus said Australian testing for tick-related diseases was inadequate because they detected co-infections but not Lyme-like illnesses. “In Australia we don’t know what bugs are in our wildlife so the next stage is to test the person, making diagnosis difficult because we don’t know what we’re testing for,” she said.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Government was funding a tick survey to better understand which bacteria and viruses were carried by ticks.

“The Australian Government has commissioned the development of a multidisciplinary treatment pathway, so that people in need know how to access available services,” he said.

“Once this pathway is finalised patients will receive a nationally standardised and comprehensive assessment of their symptoms and get the support they need to manage their condition.”

There is no conclusive treatment for chronic illness sufferers like Ms Donnelly, so she and her family will travel to Switzerland for radical treatment.

Ms Donnelly was only compensated by her former employer for two years and has spent her life savings fighting this debilitating disease. To help her family get her the best treatment possible internationally you can donate to her cause here and help relieve the chronic pain.

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