A mother is warning parents to be vigilant after her six-year-old son was left brain damaged after being bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease.
Amy Mitchell was repeatedly told by doctors for months her son Adam just had a viral infection – until tests confirmed he had been bitten by a tick.
However, by then it was too late – the boy had already contracted meningitis along with permanent brain damage and facial paralysis.
Now, he is unable to blink or swallow after the tiny bite and needs additional support as he struggles to process information and has incontinence problems.
Adam, from Inverness, did not suffer any of the symptoms normally associated with a tick bite, and doctors are baffled as to when it happened.
Mrs Mitchell, speaking about her devastating ordeal for the first time, said: ‘This year has been pretty rotten and heartbreaking.
‘We could’ve lost Adam, and that’s the frightening thing.
‘We want to tell his story even if just to warn other mums to keep going back to the doctor if they feel something isn’t quite right.’
The family’s nightmare started in April when Adam became a shadow of his former self.
‘He was just really lacklustre,’ said Mrs Mitchell, who is married to David.
‘He was getting off the school bus with his shoulders slumped and then coming straight home and lying on the sofa under a blanket every night.
‘His wee brother was trying to play with him but there was just nothing in him. It was almost like he was depressed.
Never be afraid to keep going back to the doctor if your child is ill, says Adam’s mother Amy (Adam is pictured with his younger brother Blair)
Now, he is unable to blink or swallow after the tiny bite and needs additional support as he struggles to process information and has incontinence problems
‘We phoned the school, we thought he might be getting bullied.’
Teachers noticed Adam was more tired in the class. However, no-one knew why.
Mrs Mitchell made a routine appointment to see a GP but meantime things took a turn for the worse.
‘He came home from school complaining of a sore head and when I tried to touch it he started screaming,’ she said.
‘The glands in his neck were like a bunch of grapes.
‘I gave him some Calpol and I got an emergency appointment to see the doctor but by the time we got to the surgery he had a rash on his head.
‘The doctor examined him all over and she said it was viral.
‘I explained the history. I asked if she would take some blood, she was adamant it wasn’t needed.
‘So off we went with advice to just give him Calpol and if he deteriorated to bring him straight back.’
Keeping a close eye on him
Mrs Mitchell and husband David kept a close eye on Adam over the next few days.
The rash went away but the lethargy did not lift. They went to see the doctor for their routine appointment and again the doctor suspected it was viral.
‘Again I asked for bloods to be taken,’ said Mrs Mitchell. ‘I said I just felt something was not right with Adam. Again I was told it wasn’t needed, he had a viral.’
But within days the school rang saying Adam’s face appeared to be drooping.
‘He looked like a stroke patient,’ said Mrs Mitchell. ‘He had fever. I phoned the surgery. They said a doctor would phone back.
An hour went by, he was just lying on the sofa not right at all so I took him to Raigmore myself.
‘I didn’t want to be told that it was a viral again.’
Staff at accident and emergency thought he may have suffered a head injury, but there was no trauma.
They diagnosed his facial paralysis as Bell’s palsy linked to a viral infection and said it could take anything from a fortnight to a year to ease up.
Adam couldn’t close his eyes as tears fell down his expressionless face. That was when his mother Mrs Mitchell realised that his face had become paralysed (pictured in hospital)
The family had an appointment with an ear nose and throat specialist in Elgin days later as Adam was still under routine checks after having had grommets inserted when he was three.
Mrs Mitchell said: ‘As soon as the specialist looked at Adam she said ‘Why has nobody taken bloods yet?’
‘I felt so guilty. I wanted to kick myself for not pushing harder to get them done.’
Days later Adam woke up with full facial paralysis.
Mrs Mitchell said: ‘He couldn’t close his eyes. He was crying and there were little tears falling down but his face was fixed. There was no expression.’
Confirmed blood tests
An MRI and blood tests confirmed he had Lyme disease in his blood.
He spent a week in Raigmore Hospital and a month receiving antibiotics intravenously for Lyme disease.
Medics inadvertently treated meningitis which only showed up on later bloody tests.
A later scan showed changes in Adam’s brain consistent with damage caused by Lyme disease.
‘We want to make people aware of what Lyme disease can do,’ said Mrs Mitchell.
‘We can’t change what’s happened to Adam but we can help to raise awareness.’
Lyme disease cases
It’s estimated there are 2,000 to 3,000 new cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year.
But Nice said this could be an underestimation because there is no requirement for GPs or hospital clinicians to report the number of cases.
If not caught early, Lyme disease infection can spread to many parts of the body, according to Columbia University experts.
This can occur in days, affecting the brain, nerves, the cardiovascular system, the liver, the eyes and the muscles and joints.