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Battling Lyme disease tests Dahlonega resident's resolve

POSTED: April 17, 2017 11:54 p.m.
Photos by SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Kaylee Senger, 20, has been battling Lyme Disease since she was in high school. The effects of the disease forced her to miss her senior year of going to classes. The deer tick, commonly found in North Georgia, is known to transmit Lyme disease.

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Sometimes Kaylee Senger spends days, if not weeks, in bed sick.

The 20-year-old Dahlonega resident suffers from fatigue, memory loss, weight gain and heart palpitations.

Senger is one of an estimated 300,000 people diagnosed with Lyme disease in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She was diagnosed about a year-and-a-half ago after testing positive for Lyme and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

“Never take your health for granted,” Senger said, admitting she never thought she’d be chronically ill.

According to lymedisease.org, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection primarily transmitted by Ixodes ticks, also known as deer ticks. They are typically found in wooded and grassy areas.

Senger suspects she contracted the disease after being bitten by a bug as a junior in high school, but couldn’t pinpoint a specific incident.

Lyme disease can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart. Symptoms include fatigue, muscle and joint soreness, memory loss, heart-related symptoms, such as palpitations, and gastrointestinal issues. With such a range of symptoms, Lyme disease often mimics other diseases.

Because of her symptoms, Senger finished her high school education online.

Some of the first symptoms she experienced were heart palpitations and feeling sick after eating. Other side effects she has experienced include difficulty talking sometimes, short-term memory loss and weight gain, even though Senger eats healthy and describes herself as a “health freak.”

“When your brain is kind of not where it should be, it’s not really a comfortable feeling,” she said. “It’s kind of like you don’t feel comfortable in your own body. It’s like you’re a shell.”

Fatigue, however, is the toughest symptom to handle. She said it is difficult to exercise, drive or have much of a life. Senger admitted she’s lost friends since contracting Lyme disease, making it a lonely journey. Her friend Austin Garmon visits her, but anger and anxiety outbursts make it difficult.

“It takes a real toll on your emotions and your self esteem,” Senger said. “Even if you explain it to somebody, no one is going to understand how it feels.”

But one person sees the daily toll it takes on Senger. Her mother, Jamie Laster, cares for Senger as the two share a home in Dahlonega.

But, Laster said she’s a mom on a mission.

“She’s my only child. It’s just hard,” she said, indicating she has spent $25,000 on her daughter’s treatments.

Laster explained because the CDC says Lyme can be treated with an antibiotic if caught in the first month, insurance will only cover antibiotics. If not treated soon, it can become chronic after 30 days and makes it more difficult to treat.

Senger takes 30 different supplements and is on the steroid cortisol to manage her illness.

Laster said most people are diagnosed at the chronic stage. This has proven costly for her family.

“I’ve been paying high insurance premiums all of my life as a teacher,” Laster said. “I’ve never really had to use them for anything. Now that I really need it, of course, it doesn’t pay for anything but the antibiotics.”

To account for their increased expenses, Laster and Senger have downsized their home and sold possessions.
But another large expense has hit the mother and daughter this month. A treatment at a hospital specializing in Lyme Disease in Reno, Nevada, this month costs close to $30,000.

“We have our plane tickets and we have our transportation taken care of, but we’re putting all of the rest of it on three major credit cards,” Laster said. “I’ll be in debt the rest of my life paying for it.”

The treatment entails testing Senger for food allergies first, to ensure her body fights the Lyme disease and any adverse reactions to food. The second part involves giving Senger a fever every day to wake up her immune system and motivating it to fight.

“I talked to some people that went and they raved about how they got their life back,” Laster said.
Therefore, she has established a gofundme page to help raise money for the treatments. In the meantime, Laster is fighting for treatment for her daughter.

“She’s been so awesome,” she said. “I don’t think I would have been as strong as she’s been going through all she’s gone through.”



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