Introducing GLA Greenwich Gala Co-Chairs: Part 2 of Series
Not every Lyme patient is lucky enough to have a family that stands by their side when no one else will. That’s why Christina Womble (pictured), who remembers being bitten by a tick 12 years ago, is so quick to say: “I know I am so incredibly lucky. My mom has continuously fought for me for all these years.”
Christina’s mother, Astrid, has believed in—and fought for—her daughter Christina all her life. Astrid, a Greenwich, Connecticut mother of five, watched as the then 10-year old Christina first began to suffer recurring sinus infections, fevers, and inexplicable weariness. With time, Christina ’s symptoms intensified with a confusing array of alternately relapsing then remitting multi-systemic ailments.
Listening to what Christina, now 22, has gone through is positively heart-wrenching. Over the years she has suffered from a tsunami of symptoms including night sweats, memory problems, blackouts, partial paralysis, digestive issues, unremitting fatigue and severe insomnia. Many times she fell behind in her school work or had to leave school altogether, though she struggled from home to keep up. “I was constantly drowning in a sea of coursework extensions,” she said. Teachers and peers questioned whether she was really sick. She was diagnosed with mononucleosis four times. At one point her legs were so numb that she was unable to walk.
When she was In high school—Christina had been an avid tennis player who also enjoyed ice hockey and lacrosse—she began to suffer from recurring stress fractures in her legs (ultimately 37 of them). Sadly, she then had to give up the sports she so loved so much. “When her sports were taken away from her,” said Astrid, a Dartmouth graduate with a JD/MBA degree, “it was like taking her identity away.”
Christina was tested for Lyme disease a number of times but each time her test came back “negative.” As she struggled for answers, she occasionally questioned herself, wondering “Am I crazy? Am I lazy?” Yet Astrid, now the irreplaceable caregiver, believed something was seriously wrong with her daughter’s health and was determined to find its cause. They went from one doctor to another without resolution. A raft of medical professionals—from internists to naturopaths—suggested diagnoses ranging from adrenal fatigue and hormonal growing pains. Others repeatedly told Astrid that Christina’s problems were all “mental.”
“I was crushed,” said Astrid, “by how many expensive, smart doctors looked us in the eye and said there was nothing was wrong with her. It made me question both myself and my daughter. At my lowest point, even Christina’s father thought I was making excuses for her.”
With sporadic successes, sometimes stretching for extended periods before symptoms returned, Christina tried supplements, homeopathy, IV treatments, and other alternative protocols. She attended the University of Texas at Austin for two years, but had to drop out because she was so sick. It wasn’t until the fall of 2017, after her seventh Lyme test, that she finally got her answer. Christina received a positive result for Lyme as well as five tick-borne co-infections—including babesia, bartonella, and mycoplasma—each of which has its own treatment protocol.
“The day I got a diagnosis I was so happy,” Christina said. However, her Lyme struggles are far from over. After a year of IV antibiotics through a port, Christina is beginning to restore her life. “She still has her ups and downs,” said Astrid. “But the doctor says she’ll need about two more years of treatment before she feels really good.”
Today, Christina, an amazingly positive and determined individual, is focused on living in the moment, rather than dwelling on the past. “I don’t need to feel bad for myself,” she said. “Having a large family, my siblings have been my support system and I have a mom who is the most incredible, most empathetic person I know.”
Christina now attends Georgetown University in Washington D.C., where she is taking a modified schedule of three classes. She is preparing to deliver a talk on May 31 at the Nantucket Project in Greenwich about her journey with Lyme and the tick-borne co-infections. She hopes to eventually deliver a TED Talk.
In the meantime, it’s her turn to help support Astrid, who was herself diagnosed with Lyme this past November and is undergoing oral antibiotic treatment expected to last at least a year. “I was never so shocked in my life as when I learned I had Lyme,” Astrid said. “I was feeling incredibly exhausted, but I thought it was just life.” Also suffering from Lyme is Christina’s 12-year old sister, Ella, who was diagnosed in March and has been suffering from exhaustion, body-wide eczema, severe muscle and joint pain, blackouts and concentration problems. Ella is now on medical leave from school due to her inability to make it through the day. “It’s a lot of stress for her,” says Astrid. “She feels very socially isolated as a result of this disease. She cries all the time.”
Both Astrid and Christina are angry—so angry at a disease that has taken so much from the life of their family. “Lyme patients have been abandoned by the medical profession,” said Christina. “So many people are suffering because doctors are set in their ways, don’t keep up with new research and don’t look at how everything in the body is interconnected. They are unwilling to recognize that they may be wrong. Instead, a lot of Lyme sufferers are brushed off by doctors like I was.”
The mother and daughter are co-chairs at Global Lyme Alliance’s May 12th Greenwich Gala. Both women feel their participation in the Gala is their way it’s a way of turning their troubling encounters with Lyme into a positive for themselves and others. “It’s shocking how long it took us to get a diagnosis for Christina,” said Astrid. “Now more than ever, we need to raise awareness and funds for research for a better diagnostic test and ultimately a cure.”
“So many people are suffering,” she added. “Five people call me every week asking for the names of doctors. I tell them that if you suspect you might have Lyme, go to a Lyme specialist right away. Our current model of specialized medicine is wonderful at treating specific issues, yet lacks the ability to look at a person holistically and consider why this person has so many issues.”
For her part, Christina says she wants people who don’t have Lyme to know what it can do to an individual and to a family. “We need to erase the stigma of Lyme,” she said. “I want to make people angry that such a sorry situation exists. I also want Lyme patients to learn that they are not alone. There are so many of us. We are all like one big team and we can make a difference.”
The Greenwich Gala is a major fundraising event for GLA. It will be held Saturday, May 12, 2018 from 6:30 p.m. until midnight and features a cocktail reception, dinner, dancing and both a live and silent auction. To purchase tables or tickets, please visit GLA.org/2018CTGALA or call 917-242-1817.