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Merkling copes with uncertanties of Lyme disease

Published: Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 4:56 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 12:43 p.m. CDT

Nancy Merkling didn't know what her future held when doctors first diagnosed her with Lyme disease in August.

Two and a half months later, she still hasn't heard a cut and dried answer about when she will be able to kick the flu-like symptoms, aches and fever the disease has caused.

"I've been real sick the last few months," said Merkling, a professional photographer with a studio at Starline Factory in Harvard. "There are good days and bad days."

While the overriding thought in the medical community has been that a few weeks of antibiotics will take care of Lyme disease, some are calling for a re-thinking in the way the illness is treated, said Dr. Douglas Finlayson, Merkling's Chicago-based physician.

To open a discussion about Lyme disease and to help offset the financial troubles Merkling has experienced, her friends have organized a benefit event from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Starline Factory, 400 W. Front St., Harvard.

The event will include live music, hors d'oeuvres and an auction, with speeches from Finlayson and his daughter, a nutritionist who has worked with Merkling.

About 10 to 20 percent of patients treated for Lyme Disease will develop "Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome," which will last no longer than six months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But Finlayson said that a growing number of people – including an organization called the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society – have developed the opinion that the disease might not go away so quickly, or be as susceptible to antibiotics as once thought.

"If you do have an open mind, and you do see that some of these people have positive Lyme tests and have all these symptoms, and antibiotics didn't have an effect, you have to consider the possibility that there's something going on here that you don't understand," he said.

As for Merkling's case, Finlayson said the Woodstock resident was lucky to catch the disease early, as chronic cases often result from late Lyme diagnoses. But he didn't give a definitive answer as to whether the fact she's yet to recover proves a larger point about the responsiveness of Lyme disease to antibiotics.

"You start treating somebody, and the question is: Is she getting sick from the treatment or from the disease?" he said. "It's a little bit hard to say at this point."

Regardless, Merkling – who founded Fourth Fridays, a monthly art exhibit at Starline – said she's grateful for the way the people surrounding her have banded together.

Easy to do for someone who so often puts others before herself, said Stacy Pahl.

"Nancy is an incredibly giving person," said Pahl, who headed up efforts to organize the event. "This is a way for all of us to give back to her in her time of need."

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