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Woman, now 29, needs 16 joint replacements after catching Lyme disease

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

A woman suffering from ‘Lyme arthritis’ was left with such severe pain in her knees when walking that she needed a wheelchair and her hands had to be surgically uncurled from a permanent fist, and she still can’t bend properly.

Meghan Bradshaw, 29, of Charlotte, North Carolina, has already had 16 joint replacements, including shoulders, knees, hips and ankles. She has also needed 24-hour care for tasks like brushing her teeth or getting dressed.

Doctors took four years to diagnose arthritis caused by tick-borne Lyme disease. About one in four patients suffers from this form of the disease, experts say, which is caused when bacteria from the infection enter 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. She now says that she is the ‘bionic’ woman because of all the replacements for her, and that she has been ‘rebuilt’ from the waist down.

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

The disease, which can trigger arthritis when it gets into the joints, caused his hands to permanently curl into a fist (pictured).  They needed surgery to reopen

The disease, which can trigger arthritis when it gets into the joints, caused his hands to permanently curl into a fist (pictured). They needed surgery to reopen

He also needed at least eight joint replacements before his 30th birthday.  What is shown above is after he had his right ankle replaced, as well as the scars from replacing both knees and his left ankle.

He also needed at least eight joint replacements before his 30th birthday. What is shown above is after he had his right ankle replaced, as well as the scars from replacing both knees and his left ankle.

The illness left Bradshaw in need of 24-hour care and needed help with everyday tasks like brushing teeth and getting dressed.  She also needed a wheelchair.

The illness left Bradshaw in need of 24-hour care and needed help with everyday tasks like brushing teeth and getting dressed. She also needed a wheelchair.

Lyme disease, which is transmitted by the bites of infected ticks, causes a characteristic “bull’s-eye” rash around the bite site in the early stages, as well as fatigue, headaches and chills.

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But the disease can also lead to ‘Lyme arthritis’ when the bacteria behind it enter the joints, causing inflammation and swelling and making patients find it difficult to move the joints due to pain.

Treatment must be started quickly to prevent permanent damage, and patients are usually offered a four-week course of antibiotics. This is then repeated if the disease has not disappeared.

Lyme arthritis: when tick-borne disease enters the joints

Below are details on 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 in the joints, causing arthritis-like symptoms.

It must be treated quickly to prevent 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 and cause problems when moving.

It usually affects a single joint, the knee, but it can also occur in the ankles, elbows, jaw, wrists and hips, among others.

These symptoms develop within a few days or months of being bitten by a tick infected with Lyme disease.

How is it treated?

Patients receive 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 patients who get Lyme disease develop arthritis, estimates suggest.

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 increased risk of permanent joint damage.

This could lead to them needing surgeries to replace them.

Font: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

For Bradshaw, Lyme disease symptoms first appeared when she was in college, leaving her feeling fatigued and fainting, she told TODAY.

Later in her studies, she began to suffer from severe pain in her joints, which made it difficult for her to walk and perform daily tasks such as brushing her teeth or getting dressed.

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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 24 hours a day.

Doctors were puzzled 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 that he might have rheumatoid arthritis, in which the immune system attacks the joints. But Bradshaw lacked ‘rheumatoid factor’, a protein produced by the immune system that can attack healthy joints, key to the disease.

He was started on a course of immunosuppressive drugs and steroids, and Bradshaw also changed 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 he had to have a joint replacement every three to four months. In 2017, her knees had to be replaced, followed by her hips and ankles a few months later.

His hands also clenched into permanent fists and his bones began to fuse together, prompting doctors to offer even more surgery.

It was at this point in 2019 that doctors at the Cleveland Clinic tested her for various illnesses, and the results came back positive for Lyme disease.

Describing the moment, Bradshaw said: “It was such a relief because it was like, ‘Okay, 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 delay in diagnosis that I had experienced caused more complications.’

At that time she felt as if 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 together because the arthritis was so bad.”

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Doctors gave him a course of antibiotics, which are used to treat Lyme disease, administered as a drip into his chest. They told him that this would be necessary in the long run.

But by then his joints had been so damaged that he needed both shoulders replaced.

Surgery was also performed to unfold his fingers, giving him back about 70 percent of movement. They are being held in place by some metal.

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

“She is the worst case of Lyme disease,” he said TODAY. “There has never been a patient in a textbook or article that I have seen that looks like yours.”

Bradshaw is shown above.  Doctors have admitted that the initial misdiagnosis led to the progression of his disease getting worse.

Bradshaw is shown above. Doctors have admitted that the initial misdiagnosis led to the progression of his disease getting worse.

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

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

Bradshaw doesn’t know when or where he was bitten by a tick that may have given him Lyme disease.

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

But now she’s determined to use her experience to help inspire others and raise awareness about 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 now 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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