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Tickborne Illness: ‘You've heard the expression, ‘the feeling of impending doom,’ but you don't really get it until you're having this reaction.'

Alpha Gal Information in Southwest Missouri Facebook Group_.jpg
Alpha Gal Information in Southwest Missouri Facebook Group

This week we hear from Debbie Morris. She lives in Long Lane – a small town of about 1,000 in south central Missouri. She was diagnosed with alpha gal, a tickborne illness that causes a severe allergic reaction to animal byproducts in June 2020.

She spoke about how the disease has impacted her life – including in some unexpected ways.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Debbie Morris: I got into a nest of ticks in April of 2020, and by May, I was pretty ill and had the bullseye rash and different things that come from being bitten by 15 ticks.

Shortly, after my treatment for Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, I noticed that I was having these strange allergic reactions – where I would get very congested, I would cough, stomach was upset, shaky, you know, your blood pressure's up and down, you're hot, you're cold.

So, I talked to my doctor, and I said, “I think you better test me for Alpha Gal.”

So, you start out feeling ill, your stomach's not quite right, you will flush – like my face will get red, my ears will get red – I'll get swollen under my eyes, I'll get very shaky.

You've heard the expression, “the feeling of impending doom,” but you don't really get it until you're having this reaction, and all of a sudden, you feel like it's the end of the world. This is it. You're done for.

There is that doom and you can't explain it, and you try to rationalize with yourself that this is just a bizarre feeling – It's not real – but it feels pretty darn real at the time.

So, it made me a lot more aware of what I eat – a lot of whole foods and less processed foods because you know, mammal hides in so many places. So, that that's been an improvement too.

"There is that doom and you can't explain it, and you try to rationalize with yourself that this is just a bizarre feeling – It's not real – but it feels pretty darn real at the time."
Debbie Morris

One of the good things to come from Alpha Gal was forcing me to look at that diet and get the processed quickie stuff out of it, and it was better in the long run.

With computers, there's so much information people can get that by the time, you know, I would end up at the doctor's office, I would come in with all my reports and everything and I would have my little sticky notes sticking out and flip through my reports.

[I’d] say, “Okay, now what about this? And what about this?” and she was very good. She just, you know, answered everything very calmly and took her time and explained everything. So, there's a lot of information out there online – I guess for public education.

You know, if somebody says that they have a food allergy to mammal, don't think we're just trying to be difficult or avoid your barbecue, you know, there really is a thing – this alpha gal, and, you know, it'd be nice if people would know more about it and it would help to have more understanding.

I'd like it to be a little more known, so that when you go into a restaurant, and you want to talk to the manager or the chef about it – that maybe they've heard of it now before.

Just a little more public education. Just so that people can understand you a little bit, but also so that maybe people who don't know that they have this may make a connection and be able to help themselves.

Rachel Schnelle is a senior journalism student studying Radio Convergence Reporting. She is an anchor and reporter for KBIA. She can be reached at rescm4@umsystem.edu