Meghan Bradshaw, now 29 and from Charlotte, North Carolina, suffered from what doctors said was

29-year-old woman needs 16 joint replacements after catching Lyme disease

A woman with ‘Lyme arthritis’ experienced such severe pain in her knees while walking that she needed a wheelchair and hands that had to be surgically unwound from a permanent fist – and still can’t not bend properly.

Meghan Bradshaw, 29, of Charlotte, North Carolina, has already had 16 joint replacements, including shoulders, knees, hips and ankles. She also needed round-the-clock care for things like brushing her teeth or getting dressed.

It took doctors four years to diagnose him with arthritis caused by tick-borne Lyme disease. About one in four patients suffer from this form of the disease, according to experts, which appears when bacteria from the infection enter the joint tissues. It can lead to permanent damage if not treated quickly.

Bradshaw’s case was described by his doctors as “the worst” form of Lyme arthritis they had ever seen. She now says she is the “bionic” woman due to all the replacements, and has been “rebuilt” from the waist down.

Meghan Bradshaw, now 29 and from Charlotte, North Carolina, suffered what doctors called the “worst” case of Lyme disease-triggered arthritis they had seen. She was only diagnosed in 2019, more than four years after symptoms first appeared

She also needed at least eight joint replacements before her 30th birthday.  Above, after his right ankle was replaced, along with scars from the replacement of both knees and his left ankle

She also needed at least eight joint replacements before her 30th birthday. Above, after his right ankle was replaced, along with scars from the replacement of both knees and his left ankle

The disease - which can trigger arthritis when it enters joints - has led to his hands permanently curling into a fist (pictured)  They needed surgery to reopen

The disease – which can trigger arthritis when it enters joints – has led to his hands permanently curling into a fist (pictured) They needed surgery to reopen

Bradshaw required round-the-clock care because of the illness and needed help with daily chores, including brushing his teeth and getting dressed.  She also needed a wheelchair

Bradshaw required round-the-clock care because of the illness and needed help with daily chores, including brushing his teeth and getting dressed. She also needed a wheelchair

Lyme disease – transmitted through the bites of infected ticks – triggers a characteristic rash around the bite site in the early stages, along with fatigue, headaches and chills.

But the disease can also lead to ‘Lyme arthritis’ when the bacteria behind it enter the joints, leading to inflammation and swelling and leaving sufferers with difficulty moving the joints due to pain. .

Treatment must be started quickly to avoid permanent damage, with patients usually being offered a course of antibiotics for four weeks. This is then repeated if the disease has not disappeared.

Lyme arthritis: when the tick-borne disease enters the joints

Below are details about Lyme arthritis, the medical name for joint inflammation caused by tick-borne Lyme disease.

What is Lyme Arthritis?

This is when Lyme disease enters the connective tissue of the joints, causing arthritis-like symptoms.

It must be treated quickly to avoid permanent joint damage and the need for joint replacements.

What are the symptoms?

Patients with this disease have swollen joints that feel hot to the touch. They can also be painful, causing problems when moving around.

Normally it affects only one joint, the knee, but it can also be present in the ankles, elbow, jaw, wrist and hips, among others.

These symptoms develop days to months after being bitten by a tick infected with Lyme disease.

How is it treated?

Patients are put on a four week course of antibiotics. This is repeated until the symptoms disappear.

Traditional arthritis treatment methods can also help relieve symptoms.

How common is Lyme arthritis?

About one in ten patients who get Lyme disease develop arthritis, according to estimates.

This is even the case when detected at an early stage.

Does it cause permanent damage?

Those who don’t receive prompt treatment are at a higher risk of permanent damage to their joints.

This could cause them to need surgeries to replace them.

Source: Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention

For Bradshaw, symptoms of Lyme disease first appeared while she was at university – leaving her tired and passed out, she told TODAY.

Later in her studies, she began to suffer from severe joint pain, leaving her to find it difficult to walk and perform daily tasks such as brushing her teeth or getting dressed.

It got so bad that by the time she graduated in 2015, she had to give up her new job in Seattle, Washington, and move home where her parents looked after her around the clock.

Doctors were puzzled by his condition, unable to make a diagnosis. They mainly focused on autoimmune diseases – conditions in which the immune system attacks the body.

Eventually, they suggested she might have rheumatoid arthritis – where the immune system attacks the joints. But Bradshaw lacked the ‘rheumatoid factor’ – a protein made by the immune system that can attack healthy joints – key to the disease.

She started a course of immunosuppressive drugs and steroids, and Bradshaw also changed her diet and cut out alcohol to help reduce inflammation.

Initially, the symptoms subsided and she began to regain some movement.

But then the pain escalated and she had to have joint replacement surgery every three to four months. In 2017, her knees required replacement, followed by her hips and ankles a few months later.

His hands also folded into permanent fists and their bones began to fuse together, leading doctors to suggest even more surgery.

It was during this time in 2019 that doctors at the Cleveland Clinic tested her for several illnesses, with positive results for Lyme disease.

Describing the moment, Bradshaw said: “It was a huge relief because it was like ‘ok, great, now we know what’s causing this’.

‘[But] at the same time, it was obviously very frustrating because the misdiagnosis I had been given and the late diagnosis I had experienced had caused further complications.

At the time, she felt like she was “in the body of an 85-year-old woman” despite being in her twenties.

“My lower extremities have basically been rebuilt at this point,” she said. “I had my fingers fused because the arthritis was so bad.”

Doctors started him on a course of antibiotics – used to eliminate Lyme disease – given by drip on his chest. He was told that this would be necessary in the long term.

But by then, such damage had been done to her joints that she needed both of her shoulders replaced.

Surgery was also performed to deploy his fingers, restoring approximately 70% of movement. They are held in place by metal.

Dr Glenn Gaston, a hand specialist at OrthoCarolina where she was treated, said Bradshaw’s case was one of the “worst” he had seen.

“She’s the worst case of Lyme disease,” he told TODAY. “There has never been a patient in a textbook or in an article that I have seen that is close to his.”

Bradshaw is pictured above.  Doctors admitted that the initial misdiagnosis led to a worsening of the disease

Bradshaw is pictured above. Doctors admitted that the initial misdiagnosis led to a worsening of the disease

“The chance of a Lyme patient reaching the stage where Meghan is is incredibly rare.”

In a statement, OrthoCarolina said: “The misdiagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis aggravated the progression of her Lyme disease as treatment had been continually postponed.”

Bradshaw doesn’t know when or where she was bitten by a tick that may have caused Lyme disease.

The disease is rarely reported in North Carolina, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but is more common in its northern neighbor, Viringia. Experts warn that climate change is leading disease-carrying ticks to start traveling south.

But she is now determined to use her experience to help inspire others and raise awareness of the risks of Lyme disease.

Bradshaw has donated five of her amputated joints for research which she hopes will help scientists understand why Lyme disease has caused so much damage.

She is also studying public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, hoping to use her experience to educate others about the risks of Lyme disease.

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