Mother of 10-year-old battling tick-borne disease: ‘his brain is on fire’

WELLESLEY, Mass. — May is Lyme disease awareness month. As more people make plans for outdoor activities, medical experts remind everyone to be aware of ticks and the serious illnesses that can come with a tick bite.

Brandi Dean’s son, Finn, enjoys nothing more than being outdoors in the summer. Unfortunately, last summer, he had to quit soccer and hockey after a tick bite that went undetected lead to a serious illness.

“We realized something was wrong when he was in our bedroom, and he put his hands to his head, and he was yelling, ‘Make it stop, make it stop,’” said Brandi Dean of Wellesley.

Dean says her son was diagnosed with Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS).

“In Finn’s case, Lyme Bartonella Mycoplasma have been identified as triggers. The disease leads to rage, exhaustion, panic attacks, among other symptoms,” Dean said. “It’s been just heart-wrenching watching him just change overnight.”

Brandi Dean knows about Lyme disease all too well. She says she was diagnosed with it years ago and called it ‘debilitating.’ She says she has recovered, but it took nine years.

“I always told people that I was grateful that it was me and not my children,” said Dean.

While ticks crawl through every county in Massachusetts, most emergency room visits for tick diseases, 251, were in Plymouth County, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences Tick Exposure and Tick-borne Disease Syndromic Surveillance Report (January to December 2020).

The highest rate of tick-borne disease visits was in Dukes County and Nantucket at 107.02 (per 10,000 residents), according to the state report.

“We did see a bit of an uptick when most urgent care and emergency room volumes were down. Overall there still was a significant prevalence of tick and tick-borne illness,” said Dr. William Tollefsen MD., Vice-Chair of Emergency Medicine and Urgent Care at South Shore Hospital.

In 2020, with so many people spending more time outdoors in the pandemic, Dr. Sam Telford, an infectious diseases expert and a professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, thought there would be more reports of tick diseases last year.

“The [Massachusetts Department of Public Health] data do not support that,” Telford said.

The numbers were only up in Dukes County and Nantucket by about 18 percent compared to the year before, which Telford said is not a large difference.

“Whatever people were doing last year, I hope they keep doing it and try to do it better. That means using repellents, clothing treated with Permethrin, checking and carefully removing ticks, and having any unexplained fever checked by a medical expert,” Telford said.

Lyme disease is often in the headlines, but doctors say there are other diseases carried by ticks that can cause severe problems to those infected.

“There are other tick-borne illnesses such as Ehrlichiosis or Anaplasmosis that can cause very similar symptoms,” Tollefsen added.

In Finn’s case, things are getting better. His mother says he’s seeing a specialist and receiving regular treatments, and his personality is starting to return. His next goal is to get back outside and on the ice rink.