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Lyme diagnosis a devastating answer to a lifetime of questions for Derry woman

Union Leader Correspondent

February 18. 2013 9:36PM
Bethany in a wheelchair 

DERRY - Derry resident Bethany McMahon had suffered through a number of serious diseases and medical crises through her elementary, middle, and high school years, but it wasn't until last year that the true culprit at the root of her illness was discovered.

"Bethany has been sick all her life with Lyme disease, but it was only diagnosed in March of 2012," said her mother, Rebekah Gillette. "As a little girl of 4, she had a circle rash on her leg which cleared up and was forgotten."

However, during her years in school, McMahon, 22, faced illnesses including pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, migraines, sore throats, urinary tract infections, vomiting, heart problems, and many other difficulties that Gillette said the doctors did not connect as Lyme disease.

"I didn't know what was wrong," said McMahon. "For years, I had heart problems. I was on a heart monitor. I had migraines, and I got terrible stomach aches. It seemed like everyday teenage stuff, but it was to an extreme."

By 2010, Bethany had hurt her back and was in tremendous pain. She tried to go to beauty school, but she was in so much pain, she could no longer walk.

"She was sent to specialist after specialist with negative test results," she said. "Of course, she was then told to see a psychiatrist, which she has for several years, and he now supports the Lyme diagnosis."

McMahon suffers from chronic neuro Lyme disease, which means the spirochetes and cysts have become entrenched in her body tissues and nervous system.

Doctors didn't recognize the symptoms of chronic Lyme disease, and she remained untreated for years, according to Gillette.

"She has seizures, memory loss, terrible back and leg pain, and is bedridden," said Gillette. "Because she has been sick for so long and has such gastric problems, she can't tolerate antibiotics and we must find alternative herbal remedies to fight this. Unfortunately, these are expensive and not covered by insurance."

Family friend Mike Mcallister also suffers from Lyme disease and knows the toll the disease can take on those who suffer and their families.

"It is unfortunate, but most doctors that treat Lyme do not contract with insurance companies and we end up paying most, if not all, of the cost out of pocket," Mcallister said.

To help pay for some of those costs, Gillette has established a GiveForward page to help raise $5,000 for medical expenses by the beginning of May. GiveForward works on a similar basis to Kickstarter, but raises money primarily for medical causes.

The find McMahon's page, go to and enter her name in the "find a fundraiser" search field.

"We live on the third floor, so getting out to doctor appointments means she must crawl down and back up four flights, and it is so tiring and painful," said Gillette.

Gillette has been unemployed for four years and is looking for part-time work, but she said taking care of someone critically and chronically ill is a full-time job.

"I have heard it said that being sick with Lyme is for the rich, meaning people with Lyme spend thousands of dollars getting better, paying out of pocket for doctors and medicines," Gillette said. "We are definitely not rich; we are struggling. The only thing I care about is getting her what she needs to recover and get back on her feet."

McMahon said the disease has taken a tremendous toll on her physically and mentally.

"I suffer from memory loss," she said. "My freshman year in high school, I was getting all As, but it got to the point where I failed out and had to get my GED."

The disease has made it impossible for her to have any kind of social life, she said.

"The pain is so debilitating," McMahon said. "That really is the hardest part. I used to have a lot of friends and have a social life, but I can't do that anymore and it is so painful."

McMahon wants to attend aesthetics school, but it is a dream that has to be put on hold, said her mother.

"We must keep this hope alive, as well as her will to live," said Gillette. "She is a beautiful young woman with such potential."

Over the coming weeks and months, Gillette said the main focus is finding a doctor and getting her daughter the treatments that she will be able to handle.

"We just have to go so slowly," Gillette said. "I know it is a marathon and not a sprint, but we need a doctor who understands her needs, and she can't tolerate a lot of pain. Sometimes she can't get out of bed, and it hurts as a mother to see her in that much pain."

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