In the Lyme-light: Destin family raises awareness about Lyme Disease

Savannah Chastain
The Schmidt family, shown together here, are raising awareness for Lyme Disease during the month of May. “Our family is definitely in the ‘Lyme-light’ during this season in our life,” said Leslie Schmidt. “We just want to make others aware and help our future generation.”

This year, the month of May has personal significance to Destin local Abby Schmidt and her family.

After five years of constant health struggles, Abby was recently diagnosed with Lyme disease, and following a statewide proclamation earlier this year by Governor Rick Scott, the city of Destin will declare the month of May as Lyme’s Awareness Month.

“I think personally that it’s great because people don’t realize it,” Schmidt said of the city’s efforts. “Breast cancer awareness month is in October… and Lyme’s disease may not be as relevant to people, but in my eyes it’s just as important.”

The Center for Disease Control reports that Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, spread through the bite of infected ticks. However, if infected while pregnant, the disease can affect children in the womb. Transmission can also occur if infected blood is used during a transfusion.

“It’s not just about a tick,” said Abby’s mother, Leslie Schmidt. “I want to raise awareness to the Destin family. My family has been affected by Lyme’s and I want to bring faith and not fear to people in this journey.”

There is currently no reliable test to determine if someone has Lyme disease or has been cured from it, according to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society. Because of this, Lyme disease has become known as the ‘great imitator,’ as the symptoms are numerous, and most patients go years before knowing the root cause of their illness.

“I have had medical complications since about sixth grade,” said Schmidt. “I had Lyme disease symptoms but I did not know that is what it was for about four years.”

Schmidt told The Log that the hardest part about her health issues was the confusion of doctors, and the fact that most insurance polices do not cover Lyme disease.

“No doctor could tell me what was wrong with me and it was very aggravating,” she said. “Now… with the diagnosis everything started to make since — I’m glad to put a label on it.”

Now that the city has stepped up, Leslie said the doors are open to citizens speaking out on the issue.

“I’m hoping that the city helps people be more aware and ask questions,” said Leslie. “Most insurance doesn’t cover Lyme’s disease treatment, and people can write to senators or congressmen to let them be aware that Lyme’s is not covered by insurance.”

Leslie said that she also has symptoms of the disease, and is currently awaiting test results, but the most important thing to her is supporting her daughter, helping others, and directing them to support.

“My daughter has faced this with a lot of courage and faith,” she said. “It takes a lot of both walking through day-to-day activities with Lyme’s. A lot of people feel like they are alone out there, but we are very encouraged just knowing what direction to go now, so we want to point other people on a good direction and help.”

For Abby, daily encouragement and support are her lifelines.

“Thankfully I have my friends and family; they are always around giving me hugs, always encouraging me and sending me letters, I’m not alone in this,” she said.

Abby said that having someone to relate to means a lot as well, as some days she feels fine and others she struggles to get through daily routines because of aches and pains.

“My friends at church and high school check up on me, and let me vent,” she said. “It’s hard, and people don’t always notice it. Some days I just need a listening ear and they listen and encourage me.”

 Schmidt said she is also thankful that she is still able to enjoy her family and her hobbies.

“I can still be involved with music, that’s my passion,” said Schmidt, who recently graced the stage with the Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra as a student performer on the clarinet.

“The first question I asked when the nurse told me about my treatment this summer was, ‘Can I still practice, can I still play?’ she said. “I’m thankful that I can still be active and still be involved with family and friends; that’s what means so much to me.”

Given the strong support system Abby has between her friends and family, the Schmidt’s would like to see everyone affected by Lyme’s have the same opportunity.

“If more people were aware of this issue, we could build support groups, bring up the whole topic, and let people know it’s not just a disease up North but it’s also here in Florida,” said Abby. “It’s a lot bigger than people realize.”

Similarly to the pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness month, Lyme disease awareness sports a green ribbon.

“It would be awesome,” said Schmidt. “In October, everyone is wearing pink ribbons in their hair, and then in May for everyone to have green ribbons in their hair or on their door. It’s not as relevant and known yet, but throughout time people will become more aware and respect it.”

WANT MORE INFO?

Leslie Schmidt encourages anyone with questions concerning Lyme Disease to email her at leslie4jc@gmail.com.

 “If anybody has been affected, or has questions, I’d like to direct them to information on Lyme disease, there are several support groups in this area.”