Athlete's dreams shattered by illness

A TALENTED runner from Suffolk who represented her country at international level last night told how her sporting ambitions had been left in tatters after she caught a devastating disease as she competed near her home.

A TALENTED runner from Suffolk who represented her country at international level last night told how her sporting ambitions had been left in tatters after she caught a devastating disease as she competed near her home.

Bury St Edmunds-based Kirsty Waterson, 23, was on her way to winning the Suffolk Cross Country Championships representing the St Edmund Pacers when, unknown to her, she was bitten by a tick.

Assuming the small rash that developed after the race, held in Thetford Forest in January 2004, was nothing more than a heat rash, Miss Waterson, who ran with the likes of the world marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe, did not seek medical help for eight months.

Her doctors did not know what to make of the rash and referred her to a skin specialist.

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Following a blood test it emerged she had Lyme Disease, a debilitating condition that can cause a raft of symptoms ranging from arthritis, bone erosion and deafness to meningitis, heart conditions and seizures.

Two years since being bitten by a tick, the illness has not only devastated her athletics career but also her life as a whole.

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The illness - which is caused by the Borrelia Burgdorferi bacterium - caused her to lose weight, suffer headaches and pins and needles and left her with severe tiredness.

Her tiredness has been so severe that she is often unable to stay awake beyond 6pm.

And most distressing for Miss Waterson, who before her illness was one of the country's top long distance runners, is the fact that athletics training can trigger set backs with her illness.

Peter Golding, chairman of the running club St Edmunds Pacers, said: “She was a really prodigious talent - probably the best to have ever come out of this area.”

Describing her ordeal with the disease, Miss Waterson, currently an estate agent who is set to retrain at West Suffolk College as a beauty therapist, said: “I have to take it a day at a time. It makes me feel very tired.

“By 6pm I often have to go to sleep. I have lost a lot of weight. My doctors now say I am completely over it but I'm not. They have said in some cases it can come back.

“With me it comes and goes, a bit like glandular fever. A lot of people in the athletics world have asked, 'where's Kirsty gone?'

“I am desperate to get back to my original fitness level. But I have tried so many times and each time I try I get ill.”

Left with a small scar on her ankle where the tick buried itself, Miss Waterson wants other people to avoid going through the same torment she has.

“I would like people to know about it. Many people have not heard of Lyme Disease or assume you can only catch it in North America.

“If people are out walking or running in forests they should wear long trousers and long sleeves.

“And if people do get a rash, they should get it checked out. Not getting it checked out for eight months was my biggest mistake.”

Lyme Disease factfile:

nIf not detected early Lyme Disease can spread to joints, the heart and central nervous system.

nIn the US, where the disease is more common, the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria causes the disease. In the UK a related bacteria - Borrelia garinii - is predominant.

n?Anti-biotics are used to treat Lyme Disease, but if the illness is not caught early it does not respond well to treatment.

nLyme Disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of a tick.

nLyme Disease is difficult to diagnose, but symptoms include an expanding rash, or bruise, which starts at the bitemark, which can appear either as a single red blotch, or as a “bullseye”-shaped feature with a widening ring around the central point.

nWhen the rash appears, sufferers can also experience joint pains, fever and fatigue, and as the bacteria continues to spread around the body, other symptoms, including a stiff neck, facial paralysis or nerve tingling.

nMore severe symptoms can include severe headaches, painful arthritis and joint swelling, heart problems and even mental disorders such as short term memory loss and difficulty concentrating.

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