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Tony's fight against rare Lyme Disease
7:40am Monday 16th July 2012 in News
FIVE years ago, Tony Bent was a healthy, happy man who’d hardly ever had a day off work.
But an idyllic afternoon walk in Langdon Hills Country Park with his pet dog, Ralph, was to change his life forever.
During the stroll Tony, 38, a former St Clere’s School, in Stanford-le-Hope, pupil, was bitten by a tick, leading to him getting Lyme disease.
Years on, the infection has not only come close to claiming Tony’s life, it has cost him and his family £13,000 in medical bills.
Now the dad-of-two wants to share his story in the hope of spreading the message that thousands of people across the UK are suffering from Lyme disease – and aren’t getting much help.
The condition can leave victims with heart, brain or central nervous system damage.
It is difficult to diagnose and the longer it is left untreated, the worse the outcome. In many cases those infected end up dying, or at best in a wheelchair.
Tony, of Berry Lane, Langdon Hills, has been left with chronic fatigue, an inflamed heart, multiple food and chemical sensitivities, irritable bowel sydrome and a disorder of the nervous system. But he’s one of the lucky ones.
After finally being diagnosed in March this year and getting the help he needs, from a Lyme disease specialist centre, Tony has now gone from – in his own words – “the living dead” to finally seeing a glimmer of hope.
His ordeal began in September 2007. The systems analyst for Ford said: “I felt a bite on my leg and saw a tiny bug.
“About a week later, my ankle started to swell and there was a red expanding rash. Before long I couldn’t stand or walk. I saw my GP in Laindon Health Centre, who diagnosed me with cellulitis.
“He gave me antibiotics for seven days, the rash went and I felt OK.”
But it wasn’t OK. Over the next few years Tony had bouts of illness and “just wasn’t right”.
He said: “I kept getting tired so easily, which wasn’t like me and what should have been minor illnesses struck me down.”
Then in February 2011, Tony’s wife Kate, 34, was told their unborn baby might be in danger and was sent for a scan.
The couple had already lost one baby back in 2005, when Kate was 27 weeks pregnant.
The thought of it happening again caused Tony to experience “crushing stress” which brought on more agonising pain.
Although Kate went on to have a healthy daughter, Rosie, now almost one, Tony became desperately ill and was rushed to Basildon A&E.
He said: “I was in such a bad way. They did loads of tests and I was told I had pericarditis and pleurisy. The pain I was experiencing was like being shot in the chest by a cannon at close range, along with the persisting flu symptoms. Now we know it was down to Lyme disease, as stress makes it worse.”
Tony began scouring the internet, trying to piece together the cause of his illness.
One thing kept coming up, Lyme disease, but it was dismissed by his GP and a test came back negative.
It was then Tony found Breakspear Hospital in Hemel Hempstead.
Although treatment at this private clinic would be expensive – so far it has cost £13,000 – Tony was diagnosed straight away. He now has to take a mountain of pills and has good days and bad, but hopes to be able to return to work.
He has written to East Thurrock MP Stephen Metcalfe, asking him to raise the plight of Lyme disease sufferers.
He said: “I try not to wallow. I’m one of the lucky ones.
“I want people to read my story and be aware the number of infectious ticks is increasing.”
A Basildon Hospital spokesman said: “Lyme disease is extremely rare. During the past five years, we have only had one diagnosis of it at this hospital.
“We are sympathetic Mr Bent has suffered from ill health, but we believe he received the most appropriate tests and care.”