STRONGER THAN YESTERDAY
Dr. Nicole Vumbaco | DVM
- A Journey In Recovery -
Battling Rheumatologic and Neurologic Bartonellosis
After receiving a definitive diagnosis of Bartonellosis, I could not have been more elated. Elated to put a name to the disseminated disease responsible for my painful degenerative arthritis, muscle and joint break down, immune dysfunction, and neurological symptoms.
Communication on my part has been limited, attaining a diagnosis was all consuming. Many do not know the extent of illness or understand how I can look perfectly normal on the outside while my body is fighting a war within…what this disease even is, let alone what it is capable of doing. Sometimes a diagnosis speaks for itself. In this case, the term is foreign to most. That unrelatability alienates your support network and dynamically adds to an already unfathomable level of isolation.
This disease is hour-by-hour, sometimes minute-by-minute. It is periods of feeling like you are better followed by massive malfunction. I never know what my day will bring, what my capabilities will be or what level of pain I'll be enduring. The onset of my symptoms followed a cat bite in 2017, There was an onslaught of mysterious inflammatory conditions, countless injuries, delayed healing and vague alterations to multiple body systems, It was a slow progressive decline that led to a debilitating state in 2019.
With over 50 doctor consultations in multiple specialties, some 2nd and 3rd opinions, human medicine continued to fail me. It was full of misdiagnosis, disregard, atypical manifestations of presumptive syndromes and complex pain. My requests for zoonotic evaluation and advanced microbial testing fell on deaf ears. There was a definitive dismissal, in the most absolute way. Zoonoses are at the forefront of Veterinary Medicine, not only do animal workers hold an inherent risk of exposure but we are constantly redefining these pathogens and their respective risks to public health. It became more and more apparent, while shocking, that this type of knowledge was absent among MDs.
By fall 2019, human medicine had nothing left to offer. My symptoms were fast-declining and my fear for reaching a 'point of no return' was becoming a reality. I started contacting Galaxy Diagnostics and Universities that were researching Vector-Borne Disease. It took me (an Emergency Veterinarian) corresponding with Dr Ed Breitschwerdt (an Infectious Disease Veterinarian) in order to attain my diagnosis. Without Dr. B's work and his advanced testing methods for intracellular bacterial disease, I would still be spiraling to confirm my suspicions, suspicions that only existed because of his research!
Bartonella, the causative agent of Cat Scratch Disease, is an intracellular pathogen that is as fascinating as it is terrifying. Extremely elegant in it's disease characteristics, Bartonella subverts immune detection by chronically living within 8 different cells in the body (red blood cells, mast cells, fibroblasts, microglial cells, endothelial cells, dendritic cells, CD34+ HPC, monocytes). There it is able to manipulate various host responses, causing a cyclic, relapsing bacteremia, low-grade inflammation and myriad of vague symptoms typically spanning multiple body systems.
Treatment has been started, it is extensive and holds some uncertainties in prognosis. At this point, it is not considered curable but we can hopefully put my symptoms into remission. Although, it will take years of aggressive and continuous medical treatment...all that matters is that I can fight and that we finally understand the cause of the complex multisystem derangements occurring in my body. So many aren't afforded that gift.
This journey has been isolating, one of relentless self-advocacy and God's blessing to find an answer. It's hard to quantify the impact of it all. Its taken my ability to practice medicine, earn any type of income, my reliability, functional capacity, independence, financial stability and completely altered the way I exist; It resulted in medical bankruptcy, career loss, disability and brought to question my ability to have children in the future. Sadly, I know my situation is one of many. The true impacts of vector borne disease are yet to be understood.
I hope this site elaborates more on the condition that has taken over my life, encourages others who might be suffering and brings awareness to a form of infectious disease surprisingly not well-known, especially for my veterinary colleagues who are at higher risk. I am hopeful, excited to start healing and know support from family and friends will be crucial.
Thank you for allowing me to share this with you; for all the prayers and support thus far. Never stop fighting!
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