'34 ticks burrowed into his skin': Australian family's horror

IT'S enough to give you goosebumps. But, for four-year-old Harrison Down enjoying the afternoon sunshine with his family, it was all too real. And Harrison wasn't the only victim.

His mother Amy had 40 microscopic creepy crawlies latched on, injecting their treacherous poison. Seven years on, their battle is far from over…


It was a beautiful day, and we were sharing a picnic on the lawn at home. Afterwards, we were itchy, but we'd been for a swim that morning, and I thought, "oh, it's just sea lice." A day and a half later, the itching was getting worse, so my husband Brad got a magnifying glass so we could see what it was.

I freaked out at first, but then did a Google search and saw Grass ticks are supposedly harmless. Harrison was distressed, his back was inflamed, covered in welts. He kept saying, "mummy get them out." We got in the bath and pulled them all out, we didn't know, but there are proper tweezers, you twist their head and stop the poison going in.

Harrison's back was covered in tick bites. Picture: supplied.
Harrison's back was covered in tick bites. Picture: supplied.

Days later I felt unwell, and Harrison's asthma flared up, so we went to our GP. The doctor dismissed any idea of tick-borne illness, saying "don't be silly there's nothing like that here (in Australia)."

Shortly after, we began experiencing bad stomach cramps, I was having headaches too, and was prescribed antibiotics.


Tests and more tests

We went to a holistic doctor who did basic parasite testing, Harrison and I had a parasite, Giardia. Parasites are a first symptom with Borrelia, an infection that gets into the body as the result of a tick bite. We were put on Flagyl, an antibiotic to fight bacteria.

I look at photos now and see dark circles under my eyes. I dropped to 45 kilos, I was eating, but my body wasn't absorbing anything, and Harrison looked like a little stick.


My boy's been through enough

In kids, tick-borne illness can also present neurologically. He's a well-behaved boy and he started having emotional outbursts and rage-like episodes. Anxiety was one of his symptoms, as well as paranoia, and phobias. It breaks your heart as a mum to see everything he went through. It was tough on him and he'd already had a rough start in life. He was four weeks premmie, just before he was due to come home, he got a bowel infection, and then had open heart surgery at three months.

The ticks bites were the start of a long battle for the family. Picture: supplied.
The ticks bites were the start of a long battle for the family. Picture: supplied.

Brad was incredible, and I know I'm very blessed, but it was hard for him to support us - we didn't know what was going on. My daughter Ava, who is two years younger than Harrison, would say, "mum it's always about Harrison." I tried to give her time and attention, and tried not to show them how much I was suffering.


Looking for answers

As the years passed, Harrison's fine motor skills were affected, he couldn't keep up at sport, and he was being bullied at school. He saw an occupational therapist, psychologist, paediatrician, and endocrinologist, we just wanted some answers. He was so tired - we now know exhaustion is very common with a tick-borne illness.

In the beginning, Harrison's pain was mild, then he started to get a lot of pain, we thought it was growing pains, but then realised he wasn't growing.

I had a lot of chest pain, exhaustion, muscle cramps, twitching, dizziness, tinnitus, and double vision. I had random symptoms and kept getting sent to different specialists, but none of them were conferring with each other.

I did a lot of research myself and it kept coming back to fibromyalgia or tick-borne illness. I was going crazy, a lot of people thought I was making it up.

I was in senior management at Blackmores, and took some time off work. On the days I felt good, I'd try to squeeze everything in and then crash and burn. I went back to work, I was working hard and went downhill again, so had to leave work altogether.


Persistence paid off

I was tested in 2014 for Borrelia. It came back negative. I've since found out it was substandard testing. We've both been tested since overseas, with live blood analysis sent to Russia. They do it at such an exacting level you can see what's in the blood cells. We both have different strains of Borrelia and another bacteria called Bartonella. Harrison and I are both positive for tick-borne illness.

I should have been devastated, but in some ways, I was relieved - I cried… there was definitely a grieving process, but now we have a diagnosis, we can deal with it.


Taking it one day at a time

I do an infra-red sauna every day, have lots of different treatments and take 80 tablets daily. Harrison is on anti-microbial treatment and antibiotics - infrared saunas, and detox foot spas. We only eat organically. We spend around $35 to $40 thousand each year just on treatments; nothing is covered by the government.

People do recover, some say you can be cured, others call it remission, but it's very smart bacteria. For both of us now, we can take little small steps in the right direction, so we do have hope.

The family are hopeful that their worst days are behind them. Picture: Jacki Bruniquel Photography
The family are hopeful that their worst days are behind them. Picture: Jacki Bruniquel Photography