Why does this nurse have to go to U.S. for Lyme disease treatment?
Canadian guidelines prevent doctors from giving treatment available south of the border
Like most Lyme disease patients in Canada, Dawn Lavarnway doesn’t remember when she was bitten by the tick that gave her the crippling illness — but she knows when she found out Canada’s health system wouldn’t treat her for it.
The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario nurse tried to book an appointment with an infectious disease specialist to get a prescription for chronic Lyme disease because her symptoms have persisted ever since her June 8, 2009, diagnosis. They include fatigue, chest pain, difficulty walking and mood swings.
In September, she received a letter from the Ottawa Hospital saying routine antibiotics for tick bites are not an option. The hospital said it follows the 2006 Infectious Diseases Society of America guidelines, which limits treatment to a maximum of 28 days. Now, the 36-year-old is heading to the U.S. in January to see a doctor to get the longterm treatment she is being denied in Ottawa.
She suspects she contracted the illness on a hiking trip in Gatineau Park or during a visit to a petting zoo in Dryden, Ont., a couple years before her diagnosis.
“I feel like I’ve spent (13) years looking after other people working for a healthcare system and when I need it, nobody will help me,” she told Metro on Wednesday. “It’s been a lot on me, my parents, my friends. I have no life. I don’t do anything now because I have no energy. The symptoms are brutal.”
The U.S. doctor she is seeing, Dr. Maureen McShane, told David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things program in September that at least 635 of her 700 patients who visit her Plattsburgh, N.Y., office come from Canada.
Lavarnway had her blood work sent to the U.S. last summer and a test came back positive for Lyme disease, she said. The Ottawa Hospital wrote to her saying it “strongly discourages” this “common practice by Canadians” because private American clinics do not follow Ontario testing standards.
“We will not consider positive results from these laboratories as being indicative of Lyme disease,” the letter reads.
She’s going anyway, and her friend Moriah Lepage set up an online gofundme.com fundraiser to help with travel and medical costs.
“They’re just trying to do whatever they can because they can’t give me antibiotics and they can’t make it go away,” said Lavarnway. “And they can’t change the doctors’ minds.”
For more on the battle to bring the treatment to Canada, see page 6.
CHEO nurse Dawn Lavarnway says she has to go to the U.S. for chronic Lyme disease treatment.