After years of medical guessing, Hanceville teen Madeline Hill takes the fight to Lyme disease

·3 min read

May 14—HANCEVILLE — Madeline Hill is 13 years old now, but for a significant part of her childhood, she and her family wrestled with the effects of Lyme disease.

Finding out what was wrong was a big part of resolving her persistent lethargy, joint aches, skin irritations, and other symptoms. It took a long time and lots of medical dead ends before Madeline's family, tipped off by a specialized Lyme test, finally encountered a physician who identified the problem and started her on an effective treatment path.

Now on a managed path to recovery, Madeline is hoping to help eliminate some of the mystery — and the suffering — from the lives of other young people who contract the tick-borne bacterial illness. She and her parents, Becca and Craig Hill, have organized a 5K fun run to raise money and awareness for Lyme treatment, and it'll take place today at Hanceville's Veterans Memorial Park Saturday morning at 8 a.m. Entry fees and funds raised through Madeline's online "Madelyme" campaign (madelyme.com) will go toward helping other children who may be facing a Lyme diagnosis — which many health insurers won't subsidize for long term treatment.

The run is the second event that Madeline's staged since finally learning Lyme was responsible for the complex of symptoms that had afflicted her ever since she was 4 years old, when she contracted a painful full-body rash while on a family vacation in the Florida Keys. That was in 2012; her Lyme diagnosis didn't come until 2018 — all while Madeline continued to suffer. Becca, her mom, reflects on one early misdiagnosis and the attending doctor's advice that rest was all Madeline needed: "Something did not sit well, because she had been 'resting' for 18 months. I knew my baby was sick."

Borne by varied tick species including the common deer tick prevalent in the southern U.S., Lyme disease isn't easy to diagnose unless you're looking for it. The tick bites that transmit the Borrelia bacterium that cause the illness aren't always painful or even noticeable when they occur, leaving the cause of transmission an open mystery for many patients long after the tick bite has passed.

Left untreated, though, Lyme is life-changing for humans who contract it, regardless of age. Early symptoms can include the rash, tiredness, and joint aches that Madeline experienced; while long-term effects can include persistent and deep lethargy, unexplained headaches, chronic joint swelling pain, memory lapse, and limited mobility.

Madeline has taken up the Lyme awareness cause in a big way, teaming with a national nonprofit to help sponsor this year's fun run, and spreading word of how to prevent and detect Lyme disease in the community she calls home. At its most recent regular meeting, the Hanceville City Council recognized Madeline for her efforts (and quickly signed off on permitting the fun run), with mayor Kenneth Nail commending her "initiative and spirit."

Madeline even gifted Hanceville leaders with Lyme disease awareness grab bags, including outdoor signage (to caution against tick bites), T-shirts, and preventive tip sheets from the CDC. She and her family are happy to spread the word to keep others from guessing at the cause of what Madeline knows to be debilitating symptoms...or, better yet, to keep people from contracting Lyme in the first place. To learn more about Madeline and her ongoing journey to help beat Lyme disease, find her on both Facebook and Instagram @MadeLyme; and visit her website at madelyme.com.

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