After many years, the diagnosis was Lyme disease

Debbie Dorholt (left) and Sarah Holm.

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Debbie Dorholt believes she had Lyme disease for about 15 years before finally getting diagnosed last year.

Her suspicions were raised in 2013, when she was camping with her kids. A man at the lodge told her he thought she had Lyme disease after seeing her walk with difficulty and asking her a couple questions.

“He had been diagnosed twice before,” she said.

Armed with that information, Dorholt, of Elk River, went to the doctor and was tested, but the test came back negative. She didn’t give up, though. She got an appointment with a doctor in Willmar who specializes in Lyme disease and, after additional testing, in September 2013 was diagnosed with Lyme disease.

“I always knew it was something,” she said. “Now I knew for sure that it wasn’t all in my head, as so many medical professionals and others had told me.”

Minnesota is a high-risk state for Lyme disease and consistently ranks in the top 10 states for reported cases, according to the Minnesota Lyme Association.

Dorholt said there are more than 300 symptoms of Lyme disease, and a lot of cases are misdiagnosed.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that people get from the bites of infected black-legged (deer) ticks.

Dorholt, who has three children, five grandchildren and a dog, said she always enjoyed the outdoors. She loved camping and had horses and other animals and would have been exposed to tick habitat.

She never saw a bull’s-eye rash that is an indicator of Lyme disease in some patients.

Dorholt’s first sign that something was wrong was in 1999, when she was in a car accident. Dorholt was an EMT for four years in the Zimmerman, Princeton and Milaca area before working as an ambulance paramedic for North Memorial for 13 years, but was unable to recover sufficiently from that accident to return to her paramedic job.

Dorholt said it was very confusing at the time, because she didn’t know why she wasn’t recovering.

Her doctor now sees a connection between the Lyme disease and her inability to fully recover from the car accident.

Before finally learning she had Lyme disease, Dorholt had seen a variety of doctors and specialists. She said she was diagnosed with many things over the years, from plantar fasciitis to fibromyalgia to Sjogren’s disease to migraines to osteoarthritis to chronic fatigue to irritable bowel syndrome. She was told she had symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

She’s had a variety of health issues, including the loss of much of her long-term memory, bone and joint pain that travels from place to place, weight loss and facial numbness.

Dorholt said before getting Lyme disease, she not only was a paramedic, but owned a home and had relationships. Lyme disease takes a toll on many things, she said.

“It wears on families just like any other chronic disease,” she said. “When it comes to family and friends, it’s so important to have that support.”

Dorholt now is on a mission to educate people about Lyme disease.

“No one deserves to go through what I’ve gone through,” she said.

She is working with Sarah Holm, a senior at Spectrum High School in Elk River, to raise awareness. Holm has chosen Lyme disease as the topic of her senior project.

They hope to sponsor an educational seminar for the public and medical professionals, and are looking for volunteers and ideas. Contact Dorholt at

Dorholt is seeing some improvements in her own health since being treated for Lyme disease.

She takes four different antibiotics twice a day and is following her doctor’s instructions to rebuild her immune system. She also walks daily.

“I’m definitely doing better than I was last year,” she said.

Fast facts about Lyme disease

•Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can involve any area of the body. Skin, joints and the nervous system, including the brain, are most frequently affected.

•Minnesota consistently ranks in the top 10 states for reported cases of Lyme disease. Reported cases have tripled in the last decade.

•Sherburne County is considered a high-risk area for tick-borne disease.

•People get Lyme disease from the bites of infected black-legged (deer) ticks. Ticks easily survive Minnesota winters and are active whenever temperatures reach 38 degrees.

•For more information, go to Brochures, surveys and other information are available at the Star News, 506 Freeport Ave., Elk River.

Source: Minnesota Lyme Association

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