Misty Brown was a success story, in theory.
After years of misdiagnoses and physicians just throwing up their hands in confusion, she was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2006 — a disease more commonly associated with New England and the Mid-Atlantic region — mere weeks after doctors said she was out of time.
"They took my husband aside and told him, 'You need to get your wife's stuff together. She's not going to make it.'"
She believes she was infected by a tick that bit her as she moved her husband's hunting equipment while preparing for a garage sale. The two years that followed allowed the disease to ravage her system, leading to heart failure, seizures, vision, balance and speech problems.
"It was 'check, check, check' as far as the symptoms, "because Lyme disease has three stages and I was so far into the third stage."
But she wasn't too far gone to come back, according to a Lyme disease specialist in Nevada City.
"'I just want you to know,'" Brown recalls him saying, "You'll be OK. I know they've told you that you're going to die, but you're going to be OK."
After a year of aggressive treatment, she was able to walk again, could talk clearly and was back working several days a week at the family hair salon.
"I was like 60 percent better," she said. After having written letters to her daughter to be read after Brown assumed she'd be dead, that alone was a gift. "I was able to walk my daughter to her first day of kindergarten."
But the aggressive treatment had a downside.
"Six years of harsh, harsh medication was starting to damage my body," she said.
Brown's kidneys and liver were failing.
"When you have Lyme, you have to accept that your life will be (spent on) medication."
But if her liver and kidneys failed, she might not have much life left. Brown's vision was going, her hair was falling out and she had lost her sense of smell.
The family found a treatment center — the Hansa Center for Optimum Health in Wichita — that they believed could help undo much of the damage done by her Lyme disease treatment, but it would cost more than they had left, after years of medical struggles.
"Through this process, I had to go so far out of my insurance," she said. "We lost cars, houses."
Out at dinner with friends, they mentioned their dilemma and how they were trying to come up with the $10,000 they'd need for the treatment. A few days later, Shelley Keller, the daughter of Boulder Creek Ranch owners Jim and Gail Hasty, called back and said that, after their dinner conversation, the Hasty family wanted to help.
The 2010 Harvest Festival at Boulder Creek raised a total of about $8,000 toward her $10,000 treatment.
"You get well if you have money," said Brown, who has only recently returned from the Hansa Center, as she and her husband spent a few more months finding the remaining $2,000 they needed. "If you have anything crazy, your insurance won't cover it."
Fortunately, the treatment worked, and Brown's condition started to improve.
"Within the first two days, all the bags and circles (under her eyes) disappeared," she said. "I could see again. I could smell again. I regained my balance. ... I'm running again. I'm talking again."
Although her Lyme disease specialist continues to monitor her condition, and she will be making annual pilgrimages back to the Hansa Center, she's now off her medication and returning to a normal life she thought she'd never have again.
Last year, she held a Lyme Disease Awareness Walk and will be helping run the charity event for a new charity benefiting orphans, at this year's Harvest Festival.
"In the midst of all the hustle and bustle" at last year's event, "my life was genuinely changed. ... I just want to thank each and every person who contributed."
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.