Lyme Disease: 'Some nights I don't want to live anymore'
ITALY is not a destination where you would expect to return with a crippling disease. Samantha Calby wouldn't have thought so either.
But the 29-year-old says her life is hanging in the balance after an ill-fated bug bite during a trip to Italy as a teenager turned her into "a vegetable".
Samantha was recently diagnosed with the bacterial infection Lyme disease, which she likely contracted from a tick during the fateful Italian holiday about 13 years ago.
But it was in the summer of 2014 Samantha's crippling symptoms "came to a head" and her life took a drastic turn for the worst.
"I feel like that summer [in 2014] I died, because this isn't living ... it's barely existing," she revealed in a heartbreaking video posted online.
"And I'm seeing heartbreak in my family's eyes, in seeing me turn from this bubbly, larger-than-life personality into a vegetable. My mum can't even look at me these days without crying, she's so concerned."
Samantha, from England's northwest, said her troubles began with two trips to rural Italy as a teenager.
"During these vacations I received many insect bites but at the time thought nothing more about them - I was a young happy child enjoying myself," she said.
"On one occasion when I was 15 we had only been a few days into the holiday when me and my mother had to rush home early because I was really sick, so much so I didn't feel like I would make it back home."
After that trip Samantha's health continued to deteriorate. She spent the next few years in and out of hospital and visiting specialists, and also coming down with "a long list of unexplained symptoms".
"Not one doctor actually knew what was really going on with me, even though my health continued to decline," she said.
"I couldn't hold a job down despite my best efforts without having weeks to months where I couldn't make it out of bed, plus other agonising symptoms."
Samantha said her many symptoms included fatigue, blackouts and blurred vision, fevers, constant infections, memory loss, breathing difficulties, muscle and joint pain and headaches.
But in 2014, those symptoms, and a host of others, seemed to get a lot worse.
"I spent the whole of summer in and out of hospital with one virus and infection after the other, my weight plummeted and I could barely even talk. I just felt like I was going to die," Samantha said, adding that changes to diet, as well as supplements and meditation, didn't appear to help.
"By August I couldn't get myself up off the couch when I returned home from my latest hospital admission. I would crawl to the bathroom on my hands and knees crying with the pain it took to get me there."
It was around then Samantha was diagnosed with Lyme disease, a potentially fatal disease transmitted through the bite of infected ticks. Sufferers of Lyme disease, including in Australia, have previously described the difficulty of getting a diagnosis and of finding effective treatment.
Since 2014, Samantha said she spent 90 per cent of her time housebound, "looking at four walls in a bed because I'm too sick".
"I have had nights where I just didn't want to be alive anymore because the symptoms have been really bad day in day out with no break and I have felt like I couldn't take the suffering anymore," she said.
Samantha has asked the public to help her pay for expensive but essential treatment for her condition.
That includes treatment and consultations with private Lyme disease specialists, antibiotics, immunotherapy and regular lymphatic system draining treatment.
Members of the public have already contributed more than $7000 towards Samantha's $116,000 fundraising goal.
"Many people who have tried quick fix treatments have relapsed later and I want to avoid that as much as possible," Samantha said.
"It's going to take roughly two to three years of treatments for my body to heal and be in remission but I am hoping to notice big improvements sooner.
"When I am well again for the first time in many years I plan on paying the help I have received forward by studying so I can get my dream job in helping other people. It would be an amazing start to 2018 knowing I am one step closer to getting the life back that was taken from me."
According to the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers, Lyme disease is present in North America, Europe and Asia, and those who took part in outdoor activities in forested areas, such as campers and hikers, were most at risk. It said risk of Lyme disease increased during the warmer months but was present all year-round.
The Australian Medical Association has said most people who presented with laboratory-confirmed Lyme disease in Australia were infected in Europe.