A woman with ‘Lyme Arthritis’ had such severe pain in her knees while walking that she needed a wheelchair and hands that had to be opened surgically with a permanent fist – and still could not bend properly.
Meghan Bradshaw, 29, of Charlotte, North Carolina, has already had 16 joint replacements — including both shoulder, knee, hip and ankle. He also needs round-the-clock care for tasks like brushing his teeth or getting dressed.
It took doctors four years to diagnose arthritis caused by tick-borne Lyme disease. Experts say that one in four patients suffer from this type of disease, which arises when bacteria from the infection enter the joint tissue. If it is not treated promptly, it can cause permanent damage.
Bradshaw’s case was described by his doctors as the ‘worst’ form of Lyme arthritis he had ever seen. Now she says she is a ‘bionic’ woman because of all the replacements, and has been ‘rebuilt’ from the waist down.
Meghan Bradshaw, now 29 and from Charlotte, North Carolina, said doctors had the ‘worst’ case of Lyme disease-triggered arthritis they had seen. She was diagnosed in 2019, more than four years after symptoms appeared
He also needed at least eight joint replacements before his 30th birthday. Shown above is his right ankle being replaced, as well as marks on both knees and his left ankle being replaced.
The disease — which can trigger arthritis when it gets to the joints — left his hands permanently clenched into fists (pictured). He needed surgery to reopen
Bradshaw needed round-the-clock care due to illness, and needed help with day-to-day tasks, including brushing her teeth and getting dressed. he also needed a wheelchair
Lyme disease – spread by bites from infected ticks – in the early stages begins with a characteristic ‘bulls-eye’ rash around the bite site, as well as fatigue, headache and chills.
But the disease can also cause ‘Lyme arthritis’, when the bacteria behind it move into the joints, causing swelling and inflammation, and pain that makes it difficult for sufferers to move the joints.
Treatment needs to be started early to avoid permanent damage, patients are usually offered a four-week course of antibiotics. This is repeated if the disease has not cleared up.
Lyme Arthritis: When Tick-Borne Disease Enters the Joints
Below are details on Lyme arthritis, the medical name for inflammation of the joints caused by tick-borne Lyme disease.
What is Lyme Arthritis?
This occurs when Lyme disease penetrates the connective tissue in the joints, causing arthritis-like symptoms.
It needs to be treated quickly to avoid permanent damage to the joints and the need for joint replacement.
What are the symptoms?
The patients of this disease have swollen joints which are hot to touch. They can also be painful, causing problems when walking.
Usually it affects only one joint, the knee, but it can also be present in the ankles, elbows, jaw, wrists and hips.
These symptoms develop within a few days to months after being bitten by a tick infected with Lyme disease.
How is it treated?
Patients are placed on a four-week course of antibiotics. This is repeated until symptoms clear up.
Traditional methods of treating arthritis can also help ease symptoms.
How common is Lyme arthritis?
Estimates suggest that about one in ten patients who catch Lyme disease develop arthritis.
This happens even when it is detected in the early stages.
Does it cause permanent damage?
People who do not receive prompt treatment are at higher risk of permanent damage to their joints.
This may require surgery to replace them.
For Bradshaw, symptoms of Lyme disease first appeared when she was in college—leaving her with fatigue and fainting, she explained. today,
Later during his studies, he suffered severe joint pain, which made him struggle to walk and perform day-to-day tasks such as brushing his teeth or getting dressed.
It got so bad that by the time she graduated in 2015, she had to leave her new job in Seattle, Washington and go home where her parents looked after her round the clock.
Doctors were shocked by her condition, unable to make a diagnosis. His focus was primarily on autoimmune diseases – conditions where the immune system attacks the body.
Eventually, they suggested she might have rheumatoid arthritis — where the immune system attacks the joints. But Bradshaw lacked ‘rheumatoid factor’ – a protein made by the immune system that can attack healthy joints – crucial to the disease.
She was started on a course of immunosuppressive drugs and steroids, and Bradshaw also changed her diet and cut alcohol to help reduce inflammation.
Initially, the symptoms subsided and she began to regain some movement.
But then the pain intensified and he needed to have a joint replacement every three to four months. In 2017, she had to have her knees replaced, followed by her hips and ankles a few months later.
His hands also cleaved into permanent fists and his bones began to fuse, forcing doctors to offer further surgery.
It was at this point in 2019 that doctors at the Cleveland Clinic tested her for several diseases, with results coming back positive for Lyme disease.
Describing that moment, Bradshaw said: ‘It was a huge relief because it was like, “Okay, great, now we know what caused it”.
,[But] Also it was obviously really frustrating because the misdiagnosis I was given and the late diagnosis that I experienced led to more complications.’
By this time she felt as though she was ‘in the body of an 85-year-old woman’ despite being in her 20s.
“My lower extremities are essentially rebuilt at this point,” she said. ‘I’ve got my fingers intertwined because the arthritis was so bad’.
Doctors started her on a course of antibiotics — used to stave off Lyme disease — given through a drip into her chest. He was told that it would be needed for a long time.
But by this time his joints were so damaged that he needed to replace both his shoulders.
He also had surgery to take his fingers out, which gave him about 70 percent of his movement back. They are being held in place by some metal.
Doctor Glenn Gaston, a hand specialist in Ortho Carolina, where he was treated, said Bradshaw’s case was one of the ‘worst’ cases he had ever seen.
‘That’s the worst case of Lyme disease,’ he told TODAY. ‘There has never been a patient in a textbook or article that I have seen that is anywhere close to him.’
Bradshaw is shown above. Doctors have admitted that initially misdiagnosis made her illness worse
‘The chance of a patient with Lyme reaching Meghan’s stage is incredibly rare.’
In a release, OrthoCarolina said: ‘Misdiagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis worsened the progression of her Lyme disease as treatment was continually discontinued.’
Bradshaw does not know when or where he was bitten by a tick that can cause Lyme disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the disease is rarely reported in North Carolina, but it is more common in its northern neighbor Viringia. Experts warn that climate change is causing disease-carrying ticks to move south.
But she is now determined to use her experience to inspire others and raise awareness about the risks of Lyme disease.
Bradshaw has donated five of his severed joints to research, which he hopes will help scientists understand why Lyme disease causes so much damage.
She is now studying public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, hoping to use her experience to educate others about the risks of Lyme disease.