FRESNO, Calif. – It’s hard to believe something so small can take a life. Something the size of a poppy seed, can cause so much pain. A tiny black legged tick changed Jody Hudson’s life forever. That tick bit her daughter Alex, and infected her with a killer.
One little tick bite left this healthy, active sweet-hearted girl in chronic pain.
“From 5-6 years old she was doing soccer. Already doing softball. She was doing dance. She was doing all the normal activities a young girl would be interested in,” says Hudson.
The symptoms surfaced when Alex was 10. “It started as annoying pain then it became very debilitating,” she says.
Doctors were baffled– they thought it was growing pains, arthritis pain. She had knee surgery, physical therapy. She quit playing sports. Nothing helped. In high school, Alex developed food sensitivities and began losing weight.
“Beautiful young girl at a young age.. She’s losing weight, it’s got to be anorexia. She’s got an eating disorder,” Hudson says.
Desperate, Jody took Alex to an eating disorder clinic. They saw doctors at UCLA and Stanford. Finally in 2017, ten years into the struggle, A specialist in Los Angeles figured it out. According to Hudson, “He said, ‘Alex has anybody tested you for tick borne illness?’ I said, ‘what’s tick borne illness?’ He said, ‘Mrs. Hudson, everything she’s saying are classic symptoms of a tick borne illness.’ ”
At age 21, Alex Hudson became one of the 300-thousand people diagnosed annually with Lyme Disease. It’s from the bacteria transmitted by ticks that live in forested areas.
“It’s gone from a rare disease when it was first described, to a pretty common disease focused in those three areas.. West coast.. Upper midwest and northeast and mid-atlantic area,” says Dr. John Aucott, Director of the Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Research Center in Baltimore, Maryland.
Dr. Aucott says our active lifestyles and global warming have lead to an increase in Lyme cases. And early symptoms, a rash or flu like symptoms are often overlooked.
“The patients may ignore them or their doctors may not recognize that pattern as being something that would raise a suspicion for Lyme Disease,” Dr. Aucott says.
His team is working to develop tests to diagnose it earlier and to determine whether treatments are effective.
“At the later stages, if you treat after it’s spread to nerves or other structures, then it’s harder to treat so the biggest challenge is making the early diagnosis,” he says.
Untreated, Lyme spreads insidiously, into joints, into the brain, into the heart. Jody says Alex’s case was very advanced. They relied on each other and their faith for the strength to fight. “They look to you, right? Your children say “hey mom, you need to fix it. You’re the fixer person,” and I couldn’t fix this.” she says.
One year later, in March of 2018, Alex passed away. But in her grief, Jody took action. She’s created a non-profit: The Alex Hudson Lyme Foundation. Fulfilling a promise she made to her dying daughter.
“She said you have to do this now. You’ve got to be the torch. And you’ve got to be the one to tell people.. Don’t give up,” Hudson says.
Jody is now focused on raising money for research and educating the community, including doctors, so Lyme patients don’t go undiagnosed. An important legacy left by a young woman with a gentle spirit who believed in helping those less fortunate in life.. And continues to do so in death. “When people say god how do you get out of bed, you just lost a child? How can I not get out of bed for all the suffering Alex went through, this pales in comparison to that,” says Hudson.
Dr. Aucott stressed more important then early treatment of Lyme, is preventing the disease altogether. He recommends:
1. Recognizing when you’re in high risk areas and wearing protective clothing
2. Treating clothing with chemicals to prevent ticks
3. Checking for ticks on the skin and in your hair.
His team is working on better tests to diagnose and treat Lyme Disease. Other research is underway for a vaccine to prevent it.
For more information on the Alex Hudson Lyme Foundation go to AlexHudsonLymeFoundation.org.