Michelle De Feo was once an active 22-year-old horse rider who was pursuing a promising career in modelling.
But her life was turned upside down after being struck by a mystery illness.
Michelle, from Colchester, became so unwell that she had to give up her career and even stopped riding her beloved horse, Charlie.
“I was so ill, I had never felt anything like it before in my life,” she said.
“I was struggling to stand up from dizziness, blood was coming out in my urine, I knew something wasn’t right.
“I was in Spain at the time working and I had to come back because I was not feeling well.”
For Michelle, finding out what was causing her to feel so unwell was a long process.
It was not until a year later that doctors were finally able to figure out what was wrong with her.
Michelle had contracted Lyme disease.
“I was pushed around for a year, first they said it was migraines, then a kidney infection, then anxiety,” she explained.
“It wasn’t until one of my friends saw someone talking about Lyme disease in the press and said it sounds like what you’re describing that I knew about it.
“I had to get tested privately and it came back positive for Lyme disease.”
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can be spread to humans by infected ticks.
While only a small number of ticks are infected with the bacteria that causes the illness, it is still advisable to be aware of ticks and to safely remove them as possible, just in case.
However, Michelle says that she never saw a tick and did not develop a ‘bulls-eye rash’, one of the more recognisable symptoms, until a year later.
“I never saw a tick, I did get a rash on my arm, but that was a year later,” she added.
“If I had walked into A&E with a tick hanging off me and a big bulls-eye rash then they would have given me antibiotics there and then.
“It’s hard to diagnose because it mimics other illnesses.
“A lot of other people are diagnosed with other things first before looking in to Lyme disease, which is why they take so long to recover.
“If I had been treated in the first year when I was fobbed off here and there, I would not be as bad.”
Travelling to America for treatment
But Michelle’s problems did not end when she received her diagnosis.
She said: “At first I was relieved I was diagnosed, but it was so expensive.
“I started treatment here for it but it ended up being cheaper to go to America. Here it costs around £16,000 whereas over there it costs around £4,000.
“Lyme disease isn’t as well known here, it’s more well known in America and Germany.
“I went to America in 2016 for a week, I met with a Lyme disease specialist and came back with loads of meds.
“The people in the shops we met couldn’t believe we had travelled all that way for treatment.
“It was a little depressing when I was told that patients can be treated for three years depending on the person, but when I came back from America I was really positive. I started to see a really good improvement.
“I started going back to the stables again, I even did some awareness shoots. It was gradual though, because I used to get tired really quickly.”
Unfortunately in January, Michelle suffered a relapse.
She explained: “I had quite a bad relapse and I ended up in A&E with kidney problems.
“The pain was unreal. I had bruises on my back where my kidneys are. I had got to a really good point and now I’m back at the beginning.”
Even though Michelle is receiving treatment from America, she still sees her GP regularly for blood tests and lets them know about her treatment.
She added: “Every time I see my GP the only thing they can offer are pain meds.
“They know I am on antibiotics, I show them everything, but they say they cannot help.
“You still have to see your GP and they know there is nothing they can do, it is sad really.”