Celebrities with Lyme Disease

by lmatthews on October 6, 2011

Meadow_Soprano

Jamie-Lynn Sigler (Meadow Soprano) suffered temporary paralysis from Lyme disease.

Patients with Lyme disease often report dissatisfaction with how their case has been (mis)handled by medical professionals and the medical establishment in general. Many have called on celebrities with Lyme disease to use their exposure to raise Lyme awareness and force changes in how the disease is diagnosed and treated. There are many famous people rumored to have Lyme disease, or to have overcome the condition, as well as a handful who have openly admitted to having been seriously affected by the infection with the spirochaetal Lyme disease bacteria.

Writers with Lyme disease

A number of authors have gone on record stating that they suffered (or continue to suffer) from Lyme disease, perhaps because the cognitive effects of Lyme have such a profound result on a writer’s ability to continue working. Maintaining a handle on intricate plot development and the finer points of your protagonist’s character clearly suffer immensely when neuroborreliosis has confounded your short-term memory and your concentration is non-existent. Rebecca Wells, author of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is one such author, who faced diagnoses of dystonia, epilepsy, and was even encouraged to simply take antidepressants to clear up her symptoms.

Lyme Disease Sufferer, Author Amy Tan

Perhaps the most vocal of Lyme disease advocates who are also authors is Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s Daughter, amongst other books. Tan is still affected by the condition after contracting the infection in 1999. Details of her experience with Lyme disease are given on the author’s website (AmyTan.net) and included flu-like illness, numbness and tingling in the extremities, neck stiffness, insomnia, rapidly vacillating blood sugar levels, and fourteen brain lesions in her frontal and parietal lobes. A New York Times Bestselling writer, Tan possibly explains the cognitive effects of Lyme disease better than most: “By day, my memory was held together with friable threads, my concentration was as easy to disperse as blown dust…”. Such cognitive Lyme disease symptoms will be familiar to many patients.

alice-walker

Alice Walker suffered from Lyme disease whilst filming The Color Purple

Another writer having suffered with Lyme disease is the Pullitzer Prize-winning Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple. Walker has documented her struggle with Lyme disease in an essay entitled ‘The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult’, written and published in 1996. At the time Alice Walker became symptomatic with Lyme disease she was filming The Color Purple and the problems she experienced had a profound effect on her relationship (which eventually broke down) as well as her ability to work. Walker has become something of a Lyme disease advocate since her experience, despite having been effectively cured of the condition with appropriate treatment.

Singers and Actors with Lyme Disease

Daryl Hall, of Hall and Oates fame, is possibly the most famous singer having suffered from Lyme disease. Hall was diagnosed in 2006 after becoming extremely ill whilst on stage and actually stumbling off stage with a fever of 102 degrees. The rest of the duo’s July tour was cancelled as Hall returned to New York for treatment. As Hall was treated promptly with antibiotics he appears to have no lasting effects from the illness, a familiar story with many celebrities who are lucky enough to be able to afford extensive and speedy health-care in contrast to many with what is believed to be chronic Lyme disease.

Neneh Cherry is another celebrity affected by Lyme disease; the singer contracted the infection around 1990 and Lyme disease prevented her from doing much work until 1992 during a slow convalescence from the infection.

Actors with Lyme Disease

Meadow Soprano faced a number of terrifying scenarios in the HBO series The Sopranos, but the actor who played her, Jamie-Lynn Sigler described her ordeal with Lyme disease in her memoir ‘Wise Girl’. Sigler contracted Lyme disease when she was nineteen and filming the series in Hamburg, Sussex County, at the height of the cult TV show’s popularity. Initial symptoms included tingling in her feet which rapidly progressed to paralysis of her legs. She spent five days in Long Island’s North Shore Hospital while doctors desperately tried to diagnose her condition, eventually treating her with appropriate antibiotics. Sigler apparently suffers no ill-effects as a result of her terrifying experience but has said that “It was such a life-altering experience… I realized it could all be taken away in a moment.“

Richard Gere is another casualty of Lyme disease, although he also appears to be cured of the disease with no chronic effects. Gere was diagnosed with Lyme disease as he was about to start filming ‘Autumn in New York’ with Winona Ryder. The infection laid him low for a week but the actor was quickly diagnosed and treated. Talking to friends about the experience Gere allegedly said “This is one scary disease. I felt as though every ounce of strength had gone from my body. Within hours I could barely lift my head from the pillow.”


Archer Wins Gold after Lyme Paralysis

Archery champion Mel Clarke has had a rough ride during her career, with an extremely debilitating case of Lyme disease almost proving fatal as she attended the World Archery Championships in America in 2003. Clarke, ranked second in the world at the time, quickly became ill during competition and within minutes was unconscious and rushed to hospital. The then 23yr-old was connected to a life-support machine in hospital with doctors fearing for her life. Unconscious for nearly two weeks, Clarke awoke to find herself on a ventilator and being tube-fed.

The world champion archer already suffered from reflex sympathetic dystrophy (an arthritic condition) and was left paralysed from the waist down and blind in one eye after her battle with Lyme disease. Despite these considerable obstacles, and doctors telling her that she would never shoot an arrow again, Mel Clarke is now one of Britains’ top Paralympians with six Paralympic world records to add to her ten national able-bodied records.

Other Famous Lyme Disease Patients

Other celebrities with Lyme disease include Brooke Landau, freelance reporter and producer most famous for her work on the Today Show. Landau gave an interview to NBC because she “wanted to talk to others because I would not have been sick for 7 years if the insurance companies didn’t make money off of sick people.” Landau had a congenital heart defect, a possible reason why she was so badly affected by Lyme disease which can cause Lyme carditis.

Bush’s Brush With Lyme

george bush mountain biking lyme disease

Does Lyme Neuroborreliosis explain some of George Bush's more bizarre statements?

Perhaps the most famous person to have revealed their brush with ticks is George W. Bush. Medical records released by the White House showed that the former president was successfully treated for early localized Lyme disease after his doctors spotted the Lyme disease rash, erythema migrans. The president’s love of mountain-biking is likely the cause of his exposure to ticks and some have blamed the infamous malapropisms and linguistic oddities uttered by George W. Bush on the cognitive effects of Lyme disease. The seeming simplicity of Bush’s Lyme disease case meant that the former president did nothing to aid other Lyme disease patients during his time in office and one wonders what would have happened had he experienced symptoms of chronic Lyme disease.

Actress Parker Posey, and bushcraft expert Ray Mears are other famous people with Lyme disease stories who are doing more to highlight the condition; hopefully their media exposure can help bring about positive change.

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