It took doctors two years to diagnose my Lyme disease

RICO Franchi ­freely admits he "cried like a baby," when he took the call from his GP.

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Rico Franchi has spent thousands of pounds on complementary therapies, supplements and private specialists to try to alleviate his symptoms Picture: Colin Templeton
Rico Franchi has spent thousands of pounds on complementary therapies, supplements and private specialists to try to alleviate his symptoms Picture: Colin Templeton

After countless tests and around 20 trips to the surgery it was the relief of ­finally knowing what had caused the symptoms that had plagued him for two and half years.

The married dad-of-two, from Newton Mearns, was told he had Lyme disease, a serious condition caused by a tick bite, that can become life-threatening if it is not treated quickly with antibiotics.

He had not displayed the characteristic bull's-eye rash that many sufferers have so doctors put his chronic fatigue and muscle pains down to ME.

Experts say widespread lack of knowledge about tick-borne diseases among GPs and the medical profession, means many people with typical symptoms will not even be tested for the disease.

Many sufferers are diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome as the symptoms can be similar.

Figures show there has been a marked rise in the average number of cases in Scotland, from 55 in 2002 to 308 in 2011. However, GPs say less than 20% of cases are referred for testing.

In Germany, people are given a "zecken karte" (tick card), which allows them to remove ticks safely by themselves without needing to visit a doctor.

Rico, 32, said: "Doctors in the UK need to be taught more about Lyme disease. I knew something wasn't right.

"A lot of people who are diagnosed with ME find out years later they have it."

About four years ago this summer, Rico, a musician and tutor, began suffering flu-like symptoms including headaches, dizzy spells and extreme tiredness.

He said: "I was someone who ran a 5K every day. I did mixed martial arts, I had a healthy diet. I was 28-years-old and in the best condition of my life.

"Then almost overnight I felt as if my whole life had caved in. At first you go into panic mode, you look up your symptoms on the ­internet and think you have cancer.

"Lyme disease never came up. At the time I was working three jobs so I thought it might just be the stress of that.

"I went to the doctor ­initially with the headaches and he said it was a tension headache. I went through a circle of going to the doctor, he would tell me everything was all right, then I would go away, and then a day or two later the symptoms would still be there and I would make another appointment.

"I went at least 20 times in the space of about two and half years. They took loads of blood tests. Every time I went I had a different symptom because that's what Lyme does, it mimics other illnesses.

"The first year I became really depressed."

Eventually, in desperation Rico called a friend, whose father is a GP.

He asked him if he ­travelled abroad recently and Rico, whose father is Italian, replied that he been to Mexico and Germany in the past couple of years. The doctor told him to ask his own GP for a test for Lyme disease. He was sitting in his car when he ­received the phone call to say he had tested positive.

He said: "I cried like a baby. Not because I was scared that I had Lyme but actually out of pure relief that I wasn't losing my mind.

"You know yourself, if you aren't feeling well. There was points where I thought it might be stress but I knew something wasn't right.

"I didn't think I had ever been bitten by a tick. I didn't have the rash but a lot of people don't."

He was given two weeks of antibiotics but, because it was discovered possibly years after he became ­infected, he has been left with persistent tiredness, muscle pain, heart palpitations and brain fog.

Rico, who is married to Linsey, 30, a primary school teacher, admits he has spent thousands of pounds on complementary therapies, supplements and ­private specialists to try to alleviate his symptoms.

With a six-week-old baby daughter Aria and two-year-old boy Luca, as well as singing in a wedding band and music tutoring, he has to schedule his rest time carefully.

After performing at a wedding he is "wiped out" the next day. He said: "As a dad, you don't want to let your children down, you want to go to the park. But I know that I will pay for it the next day."

However he remains hopeful that his symptoms will improve over time and he may get back to full health and fitness.

He said: "I've been on some of the forums for sufferers and I think a lot of people just give up. I've been lucky. Some people end up in a wheelchair as it can cause osteoarthritis.

"I think the worst thing is that a lot of us Lyme sufferers are still quite healthy looking and we don't get taken that seriously as it's hard to see how much pain people are in on the inside.

"Hopefully this article will make people realise that it's a real illness."

For more information about Lyme disease, go to www.lymediseaseaction.org.uk

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