How does a perfectly healthy and active 28-year-old woman quickly change into a bionic woman in less than three years? For Meghan Bradshaw, this became her life.
Growing up in New Jersey, Meghan had a happy and healthy upbringing and was a dancer and cheerleader before she attended college at UNC-Charlotte in the fall of 2012. After graduating in 2015, Meghan prepared to make the cross-country move to Seattle, Washington to start a new job. However, the problems that came next, she never saw coming.
At age 23, Meghan could barely hold a toothbrush. Her mother had to help her with everyday tasks like getting dressed, and soon, the young college graduate needed a wheelchair to move around.
Meghan recalls it being “like a switch went off” in her body. She became overcome constantly by extreme fatigue, persistent ringing in her ears, and brain fog. Her life in an instant became completely debilitating. She started visiting as many doctors and specialists as she could, from her primary care to the emergency room and even sports medicine doctors, but no one had an answer. Her pain had moved from her knees to her ankles, hands, and shoulders and the only thing she was told to do was ice them and rest.
“It felt like I was in the body of an 85-year-old woman, but I was 23,” Meghan states in an interview.
In 2017, Meghan was improperly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and followed the standard protocol of immunosuppressant therapeutics. This improper diagnosis is what ultimately opened the floodgates to allow the underlying tick-borne disease infections in Meghan’s body to run rampant.
Meghan was finally diagnosed with ‘Lyme disease’ when she was 26 — three years after her RA misdiagnosis.
“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 really frustrating because the misdiagnoses that I had been given and the delayed diagnosis that I had experienced caused further complications.”
At that point, the damage to her joints was so severe that she could not open her hands, which were permanently curled into fists. She would need surgery to fuse her fingers with metal rods to keep them in an open, curved position, and even then, she only regained about 70% of her hand function.
Dr. Glenn Gaston, a hand specialist who operated on Meghan, told TODAY that her case of Lyme disease was the worst one he’s ever seen. Normally, if the infection progresses to cause Lyme arthritis, it affects one or two joints — most often the knees.
“There’s never been a patient in a textbook or an article that I’ve seen that is anywhere close to hers,” he told the outlet of Meghan‘s case.
Lyme arthritis may affect up to 1 in every 4 people diagnosed with the tick-borne infection, according to the CDC. However, because Lyme disease is widely underreported and misdiagnosed, it’s often the most severe case that get counted in surveillance data.
Meghan also found out that she had a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which may have compounded her pain. She said she hopes her case, however extreme, will help raise awareness about Lyme disease and other often-misdiagnosed conditions.
“While it’s extreme, my story really highlights a lot of the things that other people experience, like delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis and having a general unawareness of the dangers of ticks,” she told TODAY.
Watch Meghan’s story below: