When Scleroderma is actually Lyme disease
An Australian’s story of a global illness
Dr Melissa Keogh is an Australian clinical psychologist, writer and commentator based in Sydney.
At age 28 after completing her doctoral studies Dr Melissa travelled to Italy for two months to spend time with family and enjoy a long awaited holiday. Whilst staying in a bed and breakfast in Milan one evening she was bitten repeatedly overnight by a multitude of mosquitoes who were swarming in a drain outside her bedroom window and had entered via an open window.
About one week later she started to notice considerable fatigue and a distinct feeling that something wasn’t right. With the help of her cousin and his wife, she saw a general practitioner in Bologna, who was unfortunately unsuccessful in detecting the cause of her malaise and she returned home to Australia about three weeks later.
Over the course of the next two years Dr Melissa slowly developed symptoms of autoimmunity, most notably cold and blue coloured hands (Raynaud’s phenomenon) and at age 31 she was diagnosed with a rare connective tissue disease called Limited Scleroderma. She was trialled on medication for Scleroderma however was unable to tolerate pharmaceutical intervention and as such began to explore alternative avenues to getting well.
Over the course of the next six years Dr Melissa consulted numerous doctors of mainstream medicine, integrative medicine, chinese medicine and naturopathic medicine in her then hometown of Melbourne albeit with minimal success. It was determined she had heavy metal toxicity (particularly mercury) gut dysbiosis, pyroluria, histamine intolerance, estrogen dominance, hormonal imbalances, food intolerances, blastocystis and a congested liver. However she was highly reactive to treatments and supplements and despite her best efforts the Scleroderma persisted.
“Something just wasn’t right” Dr Melissa says. “My hands were swollen and becoming disfigured and I just couldn’t get better, no matter what I did. And for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why. In fact, I actually got to the point where I thought I was cursed. It sounds crazy but I didn’t know what else to conclude”.
“I was eating a gluten free, dairy free and sugar free diet, doing weekly – and sometimes up to five sessions per week of – acupuncture. I’d seen three different doctors of integrative medicine, six naturopaths, an endocrinologist, four rheumatologists, a physician, a kinesiologist, an international phytobiophysics practitoner and three energetic medicine practitioners. I had literally tried everything I could think of, spent every dollar I earned on my health and whilst they all did their best to help me at the time, the lack of progress was soul destroying”.
Dr Melissa also refused to accept that there was no known cause of the Scleroderma as some would have her believe. “It just never sat well with me that the cause of Scleroderma was “unknown”. I wanted to know why I had developed an autoimmune disease, at the root level. I wanted to know what happened, even if nobody else did. So I persisted and began exploring assistance overseas”.
It was through her own research that she came across the work of an American chiropractic doctor of functional medicine Dr Dan Pompa who had helped other people with Scleroderma by determining and addressing the root cause/s of their autoimmunity. He had also overcome his own mercury toxicity, something Dr Melissa knew was still an issue for her.
Dr Melissa began working with Dr Pompa in early 2014 at age 37 and after months of intensive consultation and attempts of preparing the body to remove mercury, all of which were frustratingly unsuccessful, Dr Pompa suspected Dr Melissa had Lyme Disease. “I was in disbelief at first” says Dr Melissa “. I thought Lyme Disease was something you could only get from a tick bite in a small town in America. I’d also never had a bullseye/Erythema Migrans (ER) rash so it was perplexing”.
“Dr Pompa explained to me that Lyme Disease can complicate mercury detoxification and that Lyme and mercury often go hand in hand. [i]
Dr Melissa contacted the Lyme Disease Association of Australia and with their help sent her blood to Germany and returned a positive result for Borrelia burgdorferi via Elispot. “I’ll never forget the day I got the positive result” says Dr Melissa. “I was at my Auntie’s house in Geelong and our family from Italy were in Australia on holiday. I was absolutely devastated. By that time I’d done a bit of research on Lyme disease and I knew a Lyme diagnosis meant there was a long and complicated road ahead. I wasn’t wrong”.
“After the shock wore off I also became increasingly furious” says Dr Melissa. “I’d seen umpteen practitioners in Australia since returning from Italy 10 years prior and not one had ever asked if I’d been bitten by a vector abroad or even remotely considered the possibility that I may have Lyme Disease”.
The positive blood test nevertheless led to the beginning of treatment for Dr Melissa’s Lyme disease and she initially dabbled with Byron White Lyme herbs and other natural antimicrobial formulas. However, progress was slow and Dr Melissa felt that a more powerful treatment was required. After extensive research Dr Melissa made the decision to travel to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, USA for Lymestop treatment with Dr Anthony Smith (chiropractor).
Dr Smith’s CranioBiotic Technique (CBT) is regarded as one of the top 10 Lyme treatments and according to Dr Smith works in the following way:
CBT uses gentle and effective Muscle Response Testing (MRT) to obtain feedback from your body concerning the presence of any hidden “health stressors” that may be causing your problem(s). These stressors can include: allergies, infectious organisms, toxins, and physiological dysfunctions. Once a stressor has been revealed, Dr Smith can then relay this information to your brain.
This is accomplished by the gentle stimulation of specific neurovascular “reflex points” on your cranium and upper body. As soon as your brain accurately recognises the stressor, it can then immediately begin to correct it.
Left: Flowers of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
After a five month wait for treatment – a wait she describes as “almost unbearable at that point” – and with the financial assistance of her mother and father, Dr Melissa travelled to the US three times between 2016-2017 for assessment, treatment and follow up with Dr Smith. In addition to Borrelia, a total of 15 co-infections including Babesia, Bartonella, Erlichia, Rickettsia and Mycoplasma were found and treated. Dr Smith also tested Dr Melissa via muscle testing to determine the age at which her body contracted Lyme Disease.
On two separate occasions Dr Smith found that she contracted the disease at age 28 – the age at which she had been bitten by mosquitoes in Milan. “At this point, the penny dropped” says Dr Melissa. Up until then I had no idea when or where I would have contracted Lyme, but after Dr Smith’s muscle test things began to make more sense”.
“For those who may not be aware, research does show that Lyme Disease has been found in mosquitoes” adds Dr Melissa. [ii]
“Lyme is also known as The Great Imitator as it can mimic a host of diseases including autoimmune disease. It can be difficult to get your head around this perspective but I do believe Lyme Disease triggered Scleroderma in my body, a condition I am genetically predisposed to. Put it this way – I did not have an autoimmune condition before contracting Lyme”.
The work of The Road Back Foundation and their associated Antibiotic Protocol for rheumatic diseases also helped me understand that infections can trigger autoimmunity, even though I opted not to take antibiotics in this case.
“Research also points to a connection between Lyme Disease and Scleroderma” says Dr Melissa.
Of her treatment journey Dr Melissa says “the travel was pretty brutal. I didn’t want to add any further financial burden to my parents so I decided to go alone. It was three separate flights and four different airports on the way over and three flights and four airports on the way back. Three times over in two years. Twice in 2016 and once in 2017. Large airports were difficult for me to manage alone so I was also in a wheelchair, which as a 38 year old woman did little for my self esteem” she says.
“To this day airports make me cry. I guess I’m slightly traumatised by the experience”.
Dr Melissa did however meet a beautiful friend who lived in the town where she was treated and who made her trips to the US more bearable and joyous. “We connected through the Lymestop Facebook group at the time and upon finding out I was flying solo she came immediately to my hotel with gifts, drove me to appointments and took me the local store for food. She was an angel. Funnily enough her name is Angela” she says.
“She remains very dear to me. You never forget support like that” adds Dr Melissa.
Upon returning home from treatment Dr Melissa’s body responded well and began the task of killing off the enormous bacterial, parasitic and viral load. “My brain told my immune system where the individual infections were in my body and my body fought relentlessly for three months after every treatment to kill the upward of fifteen bacteria, viruses and parasites that had inhabited my body for over a decade.” “Luckily for me” Dr Melissa adds “my brain was never affected. My mind was sharp and I could still work both prior to, and following, treatment, something I am extremely grateful for”.
Following Lymestop treatment Dr Melissa noticed improvement in her energy levels, digestion issues, temperature control and bladder issues and she no longer reacted to antimicrobial formulas whatsoever. Indeed, she credits the treatment with achieving the herculean task of eliminating Lyme disease from her body.
However, about six to nine months post treatment she developed new symptoms of Scleroderma despite no longer reacting to antimicrobials. She re-contacted Dr Pompa in 2019 and resumed consultations.
“I thought it was my heavy metal load causing the new symptoms at this point, but Dr Pompa thought otherwise, and he was right”.
Dr Pompa believed Dr Melissa in fact had jawbone cavitations/jawbone osteonecrosis and that the Lyme Disease infections (and other microbes) were inhabiting these sites, causing issues. He explained dental surgery/debridement would be required to address the cavitations.
As such, Dr Melissa had a Dental Cone Beam 3D X-ray with Dr Lisa Matriste in Melbourne who confirmed two cavitation sites. Dr Melissa subsequently undertook two successful cavitation surgeries with Dr Lisa which was another turning point in her recovery. “I was petrified of cavitation surgery due to other people’s negative experiences” says Dr Melissa “but Dr Lisa’s protocol really helped and my health only improved after surgery, particularly after the second surgery. My energy levels improved and I could tell that something had definitely shifted. It was like a load had been taken off my system and my outlook on life was much more positive”.
Today, Dr Melissa has surpassed the treatment phase for Lyme Disease however continues to work with Dr Pompa on heavy metal detoxification and reversing the damage caused by her delayed diagnosis. She also continues to work with her spiritual coach (Makeda Aset) whom she credits with helping her overcome various emotional and subconscious blocks to healing. “It’s difficult to admit that there are psychological factors at play” says Dr Melissa “but resolving them only helped me overcome the disease in the end”.
Ultimately Dr Melissa holds Lyme Disease to be the greatest of teachers and is thankful for the opportunity to share her story. She is deeply honoured to have been appointed as an Ambassador for The Lyme Disease Association of Australia and is inspired to advocate for much needed change in the testing and treatment of the global disease.
She gives special thanks to her parents for their love and financial support (and cleaning services), her girlfriend Naz for dropping off food and biscuits, her Aunty Marie for gifting her some special pieces of family jewellery during her Lymestop treatment, her nieces Allegra and Indiana for keeping her going and her beloved Nonna in Heaven for watching over her.
*Note – Dr Melissa does not receive any financial benefit or otherwise from the health professionals mentioned in this article. The names are mentioned purely to help other people who may wish to pursue a similar treatment path.