A woman suffering from “Lyme arthritis” was left with such severe pain in her knees when she walked that she needed a wheelchair and hands that had to be surgically unwound in a permanent cuff, and she still can’t bend properly.
Meghan Bradshaw, 29, of Charlotte, North Carolina, has already had 16 joint replacements, including shoulder, knee, hip and ankle replacements. He also needed 24-hour care for tasks such as brushing his teeth or getting dressed.
It took doctors four years to diagnose her with arthritis caused by tick-borne Lyme disease. About one in four patients suffers from this form of the disease, experts say, which is generated when the bacteria from the infection enter the joint tissue. It can cause 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. Now she says she is the ‘bionic’ woman by all the surrogates, and has been ‘reconstructed’ from the waist down.
Meghan Bradshaw, now 29, from Charlotte, North Carolina, suffered what doctors said was the “worst” case of Lyme disease arthritis they had ever seen. She was only diagnosed in 2019, more than four years after symptoms first appeared
He also needed at least eight joint replacements before his 30th birthday. Above is her right ankle replacement, as well as the scars from both knee replacements and her left ankle
The disease, which can trigger arthritis when it gets into the joints, caused her hands to permanently curl into fists (pictured). They needed operations to reopen
Bradshaw required round-the-clock care due to the illness and needed help with everyday tasks, such as brushing his teeth and getting dressed. He also needed a wheelchair
Lyme disease, spread by bites from infected ticks, triggers a characteristic “bull’s eye” rash around the bite site in the early stages, as well as fatigue, headaches and chills.
But the disease can also lead to “Lyme arthritis” when the bacteria behind it enter the joints, causing inflammation and swelling and leaving sufferers struggling to move their joints because of the pain.
Treatment must be started quickly to prevent permanent damage, with patients usually given a four-week course of antibiotics. It is then repeated if the disease has not disappeared.
Lyme arthritis: When the tick-borne disease gets into 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, resulting in 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 are warm to the touch. They can also be painful, causing problems when moving.
It usually affects only one joint, the knee, but can also be present in the ankles, elbow, jaw, wrist, and hips, among others.
These symptoms develop within days or months of being bitten by a tick infected with Lyme disease.
How is it treated?
Patients are given a four-week course of antibiotics. This is repeated until the symptoms disappear.
Traditional methods of treating arthritis can also help relieve symptoms.
How common is Lyme arthritis?
About one in ten Lyme disease patients develop arthritis, according to estimates.
This is even the case when it is detected in the early stages.
Does it cause permanent damage?
Those who do not receive prompt treatment are at higher risk of permanent joint damage.
This could cause them to need surgeries to replace them.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
For Bradshaw, symptoms of Lyme disease first appeared while she was in college, leaving her with fatigue and fainting, she told TODAY.
Later in his studies he began to suffer from severe joint pain, which made him struggle to walk and perform everyday tasks such as brushing his teeth or getting dressed.
It got so bad that when she graduated in 2015, she had to quit her new job in Seattle, Washington, and move back home where her parents cared for her around the clock.
Doctors were baffled by his condition, unable to make a diagnosis. His focus was primarily 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.
He started on a course of immunosuppressant drugs and steroids, and Bradshaw also altered his diet and cut out alcohol to help reduce inflammation.
Initially, the symptoms subsided and he began to regain some movement.
But then the pain increased and she was left needing a joint replacement every three to four months. In 2017, he had to have his knees replaced, followed by his hips and ankles a few months later.
His hands also curled into permanent fists and his bones began to fuse together, prompting doctors to offer further surgery.
It was at 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 such a 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 misdiagnoses I had been given and the delayed diagnosis I had experienced led to further complications.’
At this point she felt like she was “in the body of an 85-year-old woman” despite being 20 years old.
“My lower extremities have essentially been rebuilt at this point,” he said. “My fingers were fused because the arthritis was so bad.”
Doctors started her on a course of antibiotics, used to clear up Lyme disease, which they administered through a drip in her chest. He was told that this would be necessary in the long term.
But by then so much damage had been done to his joints that he needed both shoulders replaced.
He also had surgery to deploy his fingers, giving him about 70 percent of movement. They are held by some 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.
“It’s the worst case of Lyme disease,” he told TODAY. “There’s never been a patient in a textbook or article that I’ve seen that comes close to his.”
Bradshaw is shown above. Doctors have admitted that the initial misdiagnosis caused the progression of his disease to worsen
“The possibility of a Lyme patient reaching the stage where Meghan is is incredibly rare.”
In a statement, OrthoCarolina said: “The rheumatoid arthritis misdiagnosis worsened the progression of her Lyme disease as treatment had been continuously delayed.”
Bradshaw doesn’t know when or where she was bitten by a tick that could have caused Lyme disease.
The disease is rarely reported in North Carolina, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, but is more common in its northern neighbor, Viringia. Experts warn that climate change is causing disease-carrying ticks to begin traveling south.
But now she is determined to use her experience to help inspire others and raise awareness of the risks of Lyme disease.
Bradshaw has donated five of his amputated joints for research that he hopes will help scientists understand why Lyme disease 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.