Man Diagnosed With ALS Dies of Lyme Disease (Part 1 of 2)

01/11/2016 05:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Tara and David Geraghty

On Dec. 22, three days before Christmas, 55-year-old David A. Geraghty died from complications of a supposedly rarely fatal infection: Lyme disease. As reported in The Valley Breeze, a Lincoln, R.I. newspaper, Geraghty and his family found out conclusively that he has had Lyme disease just one year ago, last December. As was the case for me and is not uncommon in other cases of Lyme disease diagnoses, it was Geraghty and his wife -- not his physicians -- who pushed for investigation into the cause of his illness and ultimately were responsible for discovering that Lyme disease was at the root.

Geraghty was diagnosed in 2013 with ALS, a degenerative and usually fatal neuromuscular disease. (ALS was briefly raised as a potential cause of my most severe symptoms years ago, ruled out quickly by painful electromyograph tests.) His wife, Tara, questioned the diagnosis, asking whether her husband may possibly have Lyme disease, an infectious disease caused by a spirochete-type bacterium that infects around 300 thousand Americans each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Doctors dismissed her questions, saying that the cause was ALS. The high school at which Geraghty had been a principal participated in the ALS "ice bucket challenge," doing what little they could to draw attention to their former leader's ailment. Given that ALS is progressive and often ends in incapacity and death, this act of support is the best anyone can do.

Like David Geraghty, this woman's husband was diagnosed with ALS, later determined to be a Lyme disease infection.

Yet it's not the best Geraghty's doctors could have done. There have been other documented cases of Lyme disease being at the root of serious and disabling conditions attributed to other neurodegenerative and neuromuscular disorders. In addition to Geraghty's story:

  • A 37-year-old German-born UK woman was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, wheelchair bound, and later -- through her own research, not investigation by her doctors -- concluded she may have Lyme disease. She was treated with antibiotics while in the U.S. and her symptoms improved immediately; a month later, her U.S.-administered Lyme tests came back positive.

  • A Massachusetts woman was diagnosed in 2005 with ALS and given a year to live; a second opinion diagnosed Lyme disease and led to successful treatment.
  • A man diagnosed with Lewy body dementia (the disease that Robin Williams had) was determined to have Lyme disease, according to his wife.
  • According to a 2011 research article published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation and catalogued within the National Institute of Health's PubMed library, "various types of spirochetes, including [Lyme disease-causing Borrelia] burgdorferi and six periodontal pathogen spirochetes (T. socranskii, T. pectinovorum, T. denticola, T. medium, T. amylovorum and T. maltophilum) were detected in the brains of [Alzheimer's disease] patients." The article further concludes that: "The characterization of all types of spirochetes and co-infecting bacteria and viruses is needed, in order to develop serological tests for the early detection of infection. The pathological process is thought to begin long before the diagnosis of dementia is made therefore, an appropriate targeted treatment should start early in order to prevent dementia."
  • A 2004 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease concluded that, "The data indicate that Borrelia burgdorferi may persist in the brain and be associated with amyloid plaques in AD. They suggest that these spirochetes, perhaps in an analogous fashion to Treponema pallidum, may contribute to dementia, cortical atrophy and amyloid deposition. Further in vitro and in vivo studies may bring more insight into the potential role of spirochetes in AD."
  • Despite growingly abundant anecdotal and medically documented stories of misdiagnosis and subsequent treatment and recovery, and medical hypotheses arguing for further research in respected peer-reviewed journals hypothesizing a cause-and-effect correlation between Lyme infection and some of these debilitating illnesses, others claim that such proposed hypotheses have been "definitively put to rest."

    Yet today's scientific facts become tomorrow's historic folly time and time again: This phenomenon is built into the scientific process. We tend to think it instinctive to "know better" today than what people believed in the past, but have a hard time acknowledging and accepting that much of today's common knowledge, too, will be tomorrow's fiction. Even the theories of Albert Einstein, whose brilliance has compelled countless new discoveries and commanded respect ever since he was (eventually) understood by others, are up for debate and likely will ultimately be proved to be less than water-tight as others build on his science.

    The conclusion of this article will discuss Tara Geraghty's observation that "there's something about Lyme disease that no one wants to talk about it." If it's OK to ask doctors questions about cancer prevention and treatment, and to discuss the importance of HIV screening, why are these questions so often taboo when they relate to Lyme disease?