EXCLUSIVE: Once a busy career woman, Joanne Baskett, 46, now needs 24-hour care because of Lyme disease
Busy mum-of-three Joanne Baskett had no idea the tiny ticks she found on her cat could carry disease, let alone completely destroy her life in just a few years.
A few days later as she was trimming the hedge at the bottom of her garden she found one of the insects buried in her own skin, and removed it with the same tick tool she had used on her pet.When a red, bullseye rash appeared around the bite she went to her GP, who gave her medicine for ringworm.
And by the time, six weeks later, she came down with a fever and flu-like symptoms, a swollen throat, ear ache and heavy legs, Joanne didn’t imagine it was anything to do with the insect THAT had bitten her in her garden.
In fact Joanne, whose children were six, nine and 13, had been infected with Lyme disease, a bacterial illness spread by the bloodsucking deer tick, which is about the size of a poppy seed.
The disease is rare, with less than a third of deer ticks carrying it, and less than five per cent of bites resulting in an infection.
Incredibly, though, when Joanne finally discovered what the mystery illness was that was slowing devastating her body, paralysing vital organs including her stomach, bladder and bowel, she found out that she had been very unlucky indeed.
Scientists in America who tested her found she had been infected on at least THREE separate occasions - once in Greece, once in the States and then by the tick in her garden in Swindon, Wilts.
The makeup of Lyme disease is different in each region, and she was carrying four different strains, which she could only have contracted in those countries.
But by the time she had finally been diagnosed, Joanne was a shadow of her former self, bed bound, unable to walk, eat or even wash herself and needing round-the-clock care.
And because the pathogens in her body had suppressed her immunity, Joanne was also fighting HPV squamous cell carcinoma - the early onset of cancer - which has meant she has had 36 surgeries with much of her reproductive and excretory organs removed.
Yet incredibly she has had no treatment for Lyme disease - the cause of all her problems - despite having three different clinical diagnoses of the illness.
Joanne, 46, says the NHS is “in complete denial” of Lyme, claiming that tests in Britain aren’t thorough enough to test positive for the disease in many cases.
She said: “The NHS won’t treat me. They only us serology testing which looks for antibodies but because I was on steroids at the time I was bitten and couldn’t produce antibodies so they discarded the possibility of Lyme.
“Since then I’ve had diagnoses from three different professionals in Germany, America and Ireland.
“And to my shock I didn’t have just one strain of Lyme like most people, I had four. I had been bitten and infected with Lyme at least three times.
“I tested positive for your strains of Lyme and seven infections caused by Lyme.
"Two were from America, probably picked up when I was in Connecticut in 1993.
"And one was from Europe, which was probably during a backpacking trip in the Greek islands when I was bitten by lots of insects.
“It has ruined by life. I don’t have a life anymore. I’m permanently disabled now, I have spent the last eight years of my life inside my bedroom.
“I have carers coming in three times a day to help undress me, often I’m too unwell to be helped to my wet room so they have to wash me in bed. Sometimes I can’t stand up or even hold anything.
“If I had been diagnosed earlier it would certainly have stopped my illness progressing to the stage it’s at now, which is total bowel paralysis, stomach paralysis and bladder paralysis.
"Slowly but surely my organs are failing on me, and it’s frightening.
“I feel absolutely devastated. Angry isn’t the right word, I would say heartbroken, that my whole life didn’t turn out the way I expected it to, and all because of a tick.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. How long do I have left? My kids have only got me in their life. When I’m not here they won’t have anyone.”
Joanne was an working mum-of-three, an HR consultant travelling around the country to visit clients, when she decided to do some gardening on a hot June day in 2009.
She said: “Three days prior to that, I had been grooming the cat and felt lumps and realised they were ticks, so I removed them with a tick tool. But I never knew they could spread disease, I was totally unaware about that.
“While I was trimming the hedge I found one on my right lower leg.
"I used to tick tool to get it out but it was quite a small one and quite tricky to remove. A few days later I had a rash around where I had been bitten.
“I wasn’t until six weeks later that I began to feel really fluey and not myself.
"My throat was swollen, I had ear ache and heavy legs, and I was getting hot and cold chills.”
Joanne’s health quickly went downhill, until the point where she was no longer able to get out of bed.
And her long-term partner left her just a year after her symptoms started, leaving her to look after her three young children alone.
She said: “The disease quickly affected my whole body. I cannot eat because my stomach is paralysed, and my bowels don’t empty without machinery because that’s paralysed too.
“My cognition is very poor so often I can’t think or speak properly. I can’t walk.
“At first my GP said I had fibromyalgia and ME/CFS. I believed that to start with.
“Then a friend told me that a bullseye rash means you have Lyme, and I started to research it. I began to realise that what I had were the symptoms and not the actually illness.
“That’s when I went to a specialist clinic in the States and they found I had four types of Lyme disease. I did tests in Germany and Ireland and the results were the same.
"But when I took the tests back to my GP the NHS didn't want to know.”
Joanne says she was a “good mum” to her children before she became ill, and “a bit of a foodie”.
She said: “It has been absolutely devastating and soul destroying.
“I haven’t been able to be a proper parent to my children, and they’ve not had a proper mum.
"I wasn’t able to do the things that parents should be able to do, I couldn’t go to their sports days or make them food when they came home.
“They’ve had a really hard upbringing, they’ve seen my struggle so much and even now, seeing my go through so many surgeries, and still now getting better.
“I love cooking and used to love Mediterranean food, I was always cooking fresh meals for my children. But I’ll never be able to eat those foods again.
“Because my stomach is paralysed I vomit everything I eat. I’m now on water, and squares of organic dark chocolate that melt in my mouth.
"That’s all I’ve been able to eat since last year, and I’ve lost 25 per cent of my body weight in that time.”
Joanne believes more needs to be done to warn the public about the dangers of the ticks that carry Lyme.
She said: “These ticks can contain more than four pathogens. If you get bitten by one its touch and go whether you’re going to become disabled or be OK, and we’re not taking it seriously enough.
“I had no idea that tick bites could do this, and ended up losing my home, my career, my partner, everything.