"I'm lucky to be alive," said Bill Thornton as he very slowly sat down on the edge of a sofa.
At age 69, Bill qualifies as a senior citizen but in this era 69 is not really considered ancient. Yet Bill talks, moves and gestures like one would expect of a person decades older.
Up until seven years ago, he wasn't like this at all. He loved being active, especially outdoors. A retired steamfitter, he and his wife enjoyed their modest home on the western shore of Pasquiset Pond in Charlestown. They moved there 18 years ago from Pawtucket. Their property is heavily forested, picturesque-and infested.
A tiny deer tick latched onto Bill's body one day in 1999 and his life has never been the same-and, he fears, it will not get any better.
That deer tick, which he never saw, infected Bill with a parasite called Babesia microti. The parasite got into his red blood cells but it was a long time before he or any of his doctors found out about it.
"My hair hurt," is how today he explained his first symptom. He also felt feverish and ached from top to bottom. His wife took him to South County Hospital where he was admitted for 11 days, undergoing tests. His temperature hit a near-fatal 106, he says.
"It took a long time to determine what I really had," he said noting that at the time there were only two cases of bebesiosis in the state and his was one.
At home he vomited, had high fever and lost all appetite. His memory went and now, seven years later, some of it is still lost.
One thing he remembers vividly is that he had to learn to walk all over again. Before the tick struck he enjoyed walking around the pond, cutting down trees and making firewood for his fireplace-stove.
"I can't do anything now," he says. About the only thing he does do is force himself to take a walk from his door to a certain tree down his driveway. "I have to work myself up to do it," he said adding that he has to take a 3 to 4-hour nap each day because he constantly feels so tired.
It's been seven years and Bill is still debilitated. As for the future the outlook is not encouraging. "They just say they have done all they can do."
To make matters worse, his wife also contracted babesiosis about four months ago. Chills and fever hit and she was taken into the hospital right away. Since she caught the disease right away, medicines have helped her recover and avoid the long-term issues Bill deals with everyday.
"There are all kinds of symptoms," said Bill, adding that from what he has heard, every case is different.
As to his own case, "There's a lot of it I don't remember," he said. But there is one thing he does remember vividly. "I was so sick, I asked God to take me."Back to Patient Profiles