Teen pushes Lyme awareness

Friday, July 9, 2010



It’s a disease that kills up to 12 times more Americans than AIDS or West Nile virus and is commonly misdiagnosed. And for Jessica Wojenski, Lyme disease has become central to her life, as she’s made it a mission to educate the public about the disease, usually caused by a bite from an infected deer tick.

“I don’t want to scare people and make them terrified of this disease, but in a way, I kind of have to because there’s such a lack of knowledge out there,” Wojenski said.

Wojenski, who graduated from Bedford High School last month, contracted chronic Lyme disease sometime five or six years ago. She only manifested symptoms fairly recently, but they were so severe that she endured a series of complications that made her unable to continue her everyday life.

She’s since recovered, but the experience has left her feeling the need to expose the uneducated to the complications Lyme disease can cause. In May, she attended a showing of “Under Our Skin,” an Academy Award-nominated documentary about the disease first discovered in Lyme, Conn., during the 1970s.

“There’s such a lack of awareness out there about this that unless you scare people into realizing, they’re never going to get it, even though I hate doing that.”

“She probably missed half of her junior and senior year in high school she was so sick,” said Lisa Wojenski, Jessica’s mother. “Lyme disease was not something we even suspected until she was so debilitated that it was drastic.”

Jessica will take a year off to be sure she’s in full health before heading to the University of New Hampshire.

For David Hunter, director of the Bedford Lyme Disease Council, education is a top priority for him, too.

“It’s just my own estimate dealing with it for 10 years and knowing how easily it’s misdiagnosed, but there may be a few thousand people in town who have Lyme disease and don’t even know it,” Hunter said. “It’s that widespread and that misdiagnosed.”

Attendees of the May showing of “Under Our Skin” ranged from well-wishers and supporters of Wojenski to curious residents such as Joanna MacMillan, who moved to Bedford from Tennessee, a state that had more than 1,200 fewer confirmed cases of Lyme disease than New Hampshire in 2008, according to Federal Center for Disease Control statistics.

“I came here tonight because I’ve been bit by ticks since I moved here two years ago,” MacMillan said. “I don’t know if I have it or not. I don’t have any of those major signs, but I’m going to check again, but I still don’t know if that check will be right.”

Lyme disease can be prevented by covering the skin while outdoors and by wearing bug spray. People who’ve been outdoors in or near the woods or areas with long grass should check their skin and clothing once indoors. Wearing light clothing outdoors can make spotting ticks easier.

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