A Southern California woman transformed from the picture of a health to someone able to squeeze just a few “good hours” out of a day after being diagnosed with Lyme disease, a painful illness that has wiped out of her savings.
Renee Avis, 44, believes she was bitten by an infected tick while camping in the High Sierra in 2008. For years, she suffered unexplained fevers, joint and nerve pain.
"I just couldn't function. I couldn't get out of bed," she said.
She was diagnosed in 2011 – three years after she was bitten – when her body didn’t respond well to treatments for a ruptured disc.
Renee is expected to be completely recovered by 2015. But until then, she has to pay $25,000 per year in out-of-pocket medical expenses not covered by her insurance.
That’s where Friends of Renee stepped in – creating garage sales, poker tournaments and wine tastings as well as taking direct donations from friends and strangers alike in the South Bay.
So far, they’ve raised $10,000 to pay for Renee’s specialists, medication, home nurses, daily IV antibiotics administered by her husband and IV supplies.
"The community is just -- it's amazing, and I couldn't have done it without them," Avis said.
If Lyme disease is caught early, it can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. But if left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, the heart and nervous system.
Because Avis’ illness was not diagnosed right away, she and her doctors believe the infection permanently damaged parts of her body.
She can no longer work and spends most of her time indoors. That’s in stark contrast to the active, healthy life the sports masseuse once led: running, hiking and camping every summer.
The Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, is spread through the bite of infected blacklegged, or deer, ticks.
In most cases, the tiny tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted, so early tick checks and removal are key, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash.
Lyme disease does not occur nationwide and is heavily concentrated in the northeast and upper Midwest.
In 2012, 61 people contracted Lyme disease in California – that’s 0.2 percent of all confirmed cases that year nationwide, according to Centers for Disease Control.
Lyme disease can be prevented by using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, and applying pesticides in the yard.
For details on how you can help Renee, click here.
NBC4's Gordon Tokumatsu contributed to this report.