Lyme warriors share their stories at awareness event in Kingwood
Ashtin Schnell suffered the crippling symptoms associated with dysautonomia for years.
She was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a specific form of dysautonomia that is characterized by abnormal heart rate, chronic fatigue, frequent migraines, dizziness, vertigo, severe stomach aches and an inability to focus.
In June 2016, Ashtin Schnell had completed her junior year and was preparing for her senior year in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Humble High School. However, she was concerned her worsening symptoms would keep her from academic success.
After spending her family’s summer vacation abroad in a wheelchair, her mother decided to explore a suspicion.
“There’s a connection between POTS and Lyme disease - there’s a huge group of people who have both. It’s because of that I kept thinking, ‘We’ll have to look into this,’ and so we tested her,” said Tammy Schnell, Ashtin’s mother.
Ashtin Schnell had Lyme. The symptoms, like POTS, can include abnormal heart rate, severe headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, vertigo and disorientation.
She began aggressive treatment for her Lyme disease and just finished her last cycle of antibiotics in May.
The Kingwood Lyme Support Group held a Lyme Awareness Month event in Kingwood Town Center Park on May 21. People showed up in lime green shirts to support Lyme awareness. Tammy Schnell was among those in attendance.
Ashtin wasn’t able to make the Lyme awareness event because she was busy enjoying her new job at Escape It Houston.
“She’s able to work now, which wasn’t even an option eight months ago,” Tammy Schnell said. “She’s definitely doing much better. She’s highly functioning and able to maintain her day on a daily basis.”
Ashtin is now preparing to attend college at Baylor University in the fall.
Ashtin Schnell’s story was one of many to be told by the “Lyme warriors” present during the event.
Zak Kahler, the son of Kingwood Lyme Support Group cofounder Diane Kahler, is also doing significantly better after a long struggle with Lyme. He is about to enter his senior year of high school.
“I was diagnosed when I was 14, but I believe I’ve had it since I was eight at least because that’s when I started getting joint pain and stuff. We did physical therapy and it wasn’t helping me,” Zak said.
After Zak’s diagnosis, Diane Kahler launched into a pursuit for Lyme information and resources. She realized along the way that for such a devastating disease, there was a surprising lack of awareness and support resources for individuals and families affected by Lyme.
She met Leesa Shanahan who battles not only her own Lyme disease, but also her children’s. Together, Kahler and Shanahan created the Kingwood Lyme Support Group in October 2016.
“Throughout me getting diagnosed, my mom was able to get more education and we figured out where to go and how to help me out,” Zak said. “There aren’t many people who actually know about Lyme, I feel like, and if you don’t know about it you can’t resolve it. So, if you need help, you can come to the support group and be able to realize what Lyme is and help yourself.”
This was the case for Danny Valdez whose uphill battle against Lyme disease has only just begun.
Valdez was diagnosed with Lyme only a few months ago, but he believes it could have been lying dormant in his body for many years. It was last year that he started experiencing symptoms that rapidly became more severe.
“I was building a patio cover, carrying all the materials and it got to be where all of a sudden, the eight-hour day would become tiring. It would become a six-hour day and then a four-hour day. Then, it was like taking out my tools was just as tiring as if I worked all day. It got to the point where I couldn’t hold up the nail gun to do anything,” Valdez said.
The chronic exhaustion persisted and Valdez began seeking medical attention. He went through several doctors who were unable to diagnose the cause of his symptoms.
“I kept hearing people talk about Lyme disease. When I heard these guys were having a Lyme support group meeting, I decided to see what it was about. I didn’t really know anything about it,” Valdez said.
As Valdez listened to people’s stories at the Kingwood Lyme Support Group, he said it was like listening to his own.
“I was like, ’OK. This is probably what I’m dealing with,” Valdez said.
Valdez went to a doctor who tested certain criteria for Lyme, which he met.
Valdez is now undergoing treatment with antibiotics, which come with a set of their own side effects. As he navigates the difficult road to recovery, Valdez finds comfort in the support of a community.
“You see that you’re not crazy, and it’s not just in your head; it’s a common thing,” Valdez said. “The support level is good because you see you’re not the only one in that boat. The community’s been awesome.”
For more information about the Kingwood Lyme Support Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.