A three-times former martial arts world champion has been left blind and bed-ridden – after he was bitten by a TICK.
Stephen Bullough, 51, contracted suspected Lyme Disease from a tick bite “the size of a poppy seed” while either on a camping trip or country walk in early 2016.
The dad-of-two was “fit as a fiddle”, never smoked or drank alcohol, trained every day in the gym and refereed martial arts circuits, before he spotted the mark on his right arm.
It developed into eye pain, leg tremors and breathing problems – and private tests in Germany eventually diagnosed the former sportsman with Lyme Disease.
And just last month a seizure left him blind in both eyes.
Distraught Stephen from Wigan, Lancs., said: “It’s a huge mental step, it’s soul destroying to tell you the truth because everything has been stripped off, everything has been taken away from me and I wake up not knowing if it’s light or dark.
“I’m constantly asking what time is it, listening out for people moving so I can know I’m awake, I’m just bedridden.
“It’s strange not having the use of your eyes, with the legs you are turning back to being a child in a sense because you are getting people to do things for you which is sad.
“If you are going on holiday in this country, Lyme Disease does exist. Wherever I have got this is pretty local and I’m not the only isolated person in Wigan.
“I would say to people if you suspect you have a tick then go to a GP and let them take it out.”
Stephen initially thought the red mark on his arm was ringworm, so put cream on it and thought no more of it.
But after suffering pain in his right eye and constant leg tremors, Stephen went to see an out of hours doctor in March 2016.
He was given a prescription for Valium – which initially worked – but four months later, days before he was his stepdaughter Abbie’s wedding he collapsed.
He was given steroids and attended the 26-year-old’s wedding in a wheelchair.
Stephen and wife Angela, 52, visited specialists across the north-west in a desperate attempt to get answers.
But each time they were given a different diagnosis, from asthma to functional neurological disorder (FND).
After several agonising months, Angela was told that a family friend had suffered from Lyme disease which presented similar symptoms.
The couple were convinced this was the cause of his mystery illness and paid for private tests to be done by specialists in August 2017.
The test came back positive for Lyme borreliosis, the bacteria which causes the disease.
But the diagnosis came too late to save his sight in both eyes following a seizure last month.
Stephen said he feels frustration after his condition went undiagnosed for so long.
“I have frustration not in the NHS per say because that’s a collective body but in individual doctors or so-called specialists,” he added.
Stephen has been refused treatment for the bacterial infection disease because NHS blood tests – widely-known not to be 100 per cent accurate – have not revealed the antibodies in his system.
It means that he is not eligible for a short course of antibiotic.
Angela says the couple’s life has been “ripped apart” and claims the NHS is so far behind when it comes to diagnosing the disease.
She added: “The NHS is so far behind, with Stephen’s symptoms what they did was split them all up so each symptom was given to a different consultant so you are never going to get the correct diagnosis.”
Stephen hopes to regain enough strength to travel to Dublin to see a world-renowned Lyme disease specialist who has agreed to treat him based on the private lab results.
A spokesperson for Lyme Disease UK said: “Doctors need to be educated on Lyme disease and to be given the freedom to use their clinical judgment to go ahead and treat if there is a high chance of someone having Lyme disease.
“Leaving the disease untreated can have devastating consequences.”
Figures suggest there are 3,000 Brits infected with the disease each year which Julia Knight from Lyme UK says is a gross underestimate given the unreliable testing.
Stephen, who has participated in martial arts since he was five-years-old, is a three times former world champion and eight times British champion.
8th Dan in Karate and Kickboxing, Master in Bushido and the Chairman for the British Association Of Martial Arts.