Trista and Ryan Sutter Talk About His Horrific Battle with Lyme Disease: 'It Took Over My Life'
Nearly two years since The Bachelorette's Ryan Sutter first began experiencing debilitating and confounding symptoms of a then-unknown affliction, the firefighter, who has been wed to Trista Sutter since 2003, is finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
"For so long, I was only thinking about how to survive the day," says Ryan, 47, who, after a year of searching, was diagnosed with Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can cause extreme fatigue, headaches and joint pain. "But I feel like my life is coming back. And that's been really encouraging."
It was March 2020 when Ryan, a physically fit and highly active dad to Max, 14 and Blakesley, 13, started feeling "really really drained," he recalls. "My body hurt, I had zero energy and even getting up from the couch seemed impossible. And then, it just started spiraling rapidly."
The couple consulted with doctors including a functional medicine practitioner and a rheumatologist, who discovered high levels of antinuclear antibodies (which can indicate an autoimmune disease). Yet after doctors ruled out cancer, lupus and a host of other diseases, "we were back at square one," says Trista, 49. "It was so frustrating."
Meanwhile, Ryan was sleeping up to 16 hours a day and the months of constant discomfort were weighing on him. "It took over my life," he says. "I'd always felt like I could persevere through anything. But I couldn't persevere through this. I never got to the point where I thought I'd rather be dead. But I could sympathize with people who would rather kill themselves than live through something."
Says Trista: "Ryan is our everyday hero, so to see him feel like crap, that just weighs on you."
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Amanda Villarosa Ryan and Trista Sutter
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Finally, thanks to Dr. Jill Carnahan, MD, Ryan's doctor and a specialist in functional medicine, he was diagnosed with Lyme disease in May 2021. Ryan also was determined to have mold in his body (likely from his years as a firefighter), which Carnahan says weakens the immune system, thus causing dormant infections to pop up. Carnahan explains why Lyme has traditionally been so difficult to diagnose — and why it continues to confound the medical community. (The NIH and the CDC have yet to label it a chronic illness.)
"Classic lab tests only test for one or two strains of the bacteria," she says. "But now there are hundreds of different strains. Conventional medicine teaches a silver bullet; exact symptoms with one diagnosis. But once we enter this world, it can be much more vague than that."
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Today, Ryan has found an unconventional protocol that he believes is working for him, including infrared sauna therapy, which some claim can help detoxify the body, and bee venom therapy, in which he stings himself with honeybees three times every other day. "The bee venom weakens the bacteria," Carnahan says.
Amanda Villarosa Ryan Sutter
And after a roller coaster ride the last couple of years, Ryan and his family are feeling more grateful than ever.
"The tide is turning, and I'm feeling better," says Ryan. "And I appreciate the little things more now. It's a perspective change." Adds Trista: "Ryan is so strong. And I know we can get through anything."