Lyme disease: Grandfather told illness was in his head

A MELBOURNE grandfather has spent more than $30,000 on overseas treatment for a disease that's not officially recognised in Australia.

Doctors in Melbourne have spent years telling Len Atkins he doesn't have Lyme disease - and Medicare won't cover any of his medical expenses.

But he said blood tests sent for analysis in Germany and the US showed he had the disease.

The 71-year-old, from Rowville in Melbourne's south east, is bedridden for days at a time and suffers ongoing aches and pain. He said he was speaking out to raise awareness of the rare tick-borne disease and to campaign for government recognition.

"So many times I've been told it's all in my head," Mr Atkins said.

"You feel a lot of anger.

"But you get to the point where you think 'I'm just wasting my energy in getting angry' and it's energy I need."

Len Atkins with wife Jill, daughter Tracey Pritchett and granddaughters Teesha, 10, and Shayla, 13.
Len Atkins with wife Jill, daughter Tracey Pritchett and granddaughters Teesha, 10, and Shayla, 13. Steve Tanner

Mr Atkins spent years working as a technical engineer installing phone lines across Victoria and suspects he was bitten while working in a regional area.

He said he first felt symptoms of drowsiness and fatigue in 2005.

That led to years of check-ups from different doctors who couldn't pinpoint what was wrong with him and then, in 2013, he got the diagnosis back from overseas blood tests.

His search for treatment led him to Germany in 2014 where he spent $30,000 on experimental therapy, where he was anaesthetised and had his body heated to 42C - hot enough to kill the borellia bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

That treatment gave him a temporary reprieve from his symptoms before he began to feel ill again.

Len Atkins: “So many times I’ve been told it’s all in my head.”
Len Atkins: “So many times I’ve been told it’s all in my head.” Steve Tanner

When he got home, he and his family teamed up with other Lyme disease sufferers to lobby the Government to acknowledge the condition in Australia.

He said the disease and the debate surrounding its existence in Australia had taken an enormous toll on his wellbeing.

He has also had to give up golf and lawn bowls, and he lost most of his friends as a result.

Australian Medical Association vice-president Tony Bartone said despite years of research, which was continuing, the organism that was known to cause Lyme disease had not been found in Australia.

"At the moment it lacks clear association and a proven methodology," he said.

Dr Bartone sympathised with people suffering Lyme-like symptoms, which he said had a "devastating effect on their lifestyles".

In November 2015, the Australian Senate referred the matter to a Parliamentary Inquiry, which recommended the Federal Government increase funding for research into tick-borne pathogens as a matter of urgency.

The Federal Health Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Originally published as Man told illness is 'in his head'

News Corp Australia

Meghan, Harry ‘struggling to cope’ in LA

Meghan, Harry ‘struggling to cope’ in LA

Dream of a blissful new life has quickly turned into a nightmare

Fresh confusion over virus 'detention'

Fresh confusion over virus 'detention'

Thousands of Melbourne public housing residents have been provided with "detention...

Man in iconic 9/11 photo dies from virus

Man in iconic 9/11 photo dies from virus

This man miraculously survived the 9/11 terror attacks