Inspired by the experiences of a staff member who suffered three heart attacks in four years because of a tick bite, Los Alamitos’ Rossmoor Elementary students have been using May, which is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, to help fund research of the disease.
The students are participating in a competitive coin collection, and the school is hosting a private school event to celebrate the team with the most donations. Rossmoor invites community members to donate to the fundraiser until it closes on Friday, June 3. Proceeds will be donated to the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a national non-profit organization dedicated to making Lyme disease easy to diagnose and simple to cure.
Lyme disease — which affects half a million Americans annually — is a bacterial disease carried by ticks, which in some cases can lead to chronic illness. Ticks capable of carrying Lyme have been found in 56 out of the 58 counties in California. Following several misdiagnoses early in life, Charise Ott, an instructional aide at Rossmoor, has been battling Lyme disease for about 25 years, and this past year suffered congestive heart failure. Her earlier heart attacks were brought on by the bacteria invading her heart, which caused electrical conduction issues. Her perseverance and advocacy acted as the foundation for the school’s fundraising efforts.
Ott and her oldest son Jonny, who was born with Lyme disease, have signed up to participate in the foundation’s annual Lyme Disease Biobank. This biobank collects blood, urine and tissue samples from people carrying Lyme disease, which enable researchers to conduct crucial tests that will help future patients get diagnosed quicker and receive proper treatment.
“Of course we were willing to help,”says Ott, a supporter of the Lyme foundation. “Anything that’s going to help people get better quicker and get better treatment.” Since her diagnosis, and particularly following the birth of her kids, Ott says the main audience she wishes to communicate with are mothers who may be affected by Lyme disease. When Ott was pregnant with her oldest son, she had yet to be diagnosed and thus didn’t know that Lyme could be transmitted both in utero and via breastmilk. This resulted in her unknowingly passing the disease to her son. But, while pregnant with her second son, she was able to take antibiotics which prevented the passing of the disease.
“He’s been Lyme free, he’s perfect,” Ott says. “It doesn’t prevent you from having kids, but [mothers] need to know what to take to avoid transmission [during pregnancy].”
As we head into the summer, Ott emphasizes the importance of wearing protective clothing when participating in outdoor activities — including beaches, where ticks are also known to breed.
For those interested in dropping off coins at Rossmoor in person, the school is located at 3272 Shakespeare Dr., Los Alamitos. For those who are unable to donate at Rossmoor, donations can be sent directly to the Bay Area Lyme Foundation at their website and can include a note stating they are affiliated with the Rossmoor Elementary fundraiser.
Here are some other facts about Lyme.