April 9, 2012

Lyme disease treatment puts artist on road to recovery

The tick-borne illness debilitates a robust, long-distance bike rider, but treatment is now helping.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Stephen Gleasner is not your typical stay-at-home dad.

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Stephen Gleasner of Appleton is recovering from Lyme disease after it went undiagnosed for several years.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Gleasner, 50, creates art from plywood. His glass-like wooden bowls and relief wall hangings appear in galleries in Rockport and Rockland, as well as in South Carolina, Connecticut and Minnesota.

When not wielding a sander or hand saw, he has enjoyed riding his mountain bike long distances – such as from Canada to Mexico.

But now, Gleasner, of Appleton, suffers the classic symptoms of Lyme disease – chronic fatigue, and joint and gut pain. Gone are the mountain-bike expeditions and long creative days in his studio. Now it is a challenge making it from morning alarm clock to bedtime without a nap.

"I used to think it was fun to ride my bike and then cut the grass. But the past three years, if I took a two-mile walk, I had to sleep for a couple of hours. Everyday life became one special occasion after another. I had to give everything an extra effort," Gleasner said.

In 2008, Gleasner entered the Tour Divide, a mountain bike race few dare to try, pedaling through two Canadian provinces and five states from Montana to New Mexico. He raced against half a dozen other riders, climbing a total of 200,000 vertical feet over the 2,745-mile route during the course of a month.

Then Gleasner returned to Maine, took a few victory laps at the annual Bradbury Mountain bike race, and his life soon changed for the worse.

"Three months after the Divide, things started to fall apart. I went to an infectious disease guy, and the test for Lyme came back negative. I was assured it wasn't Lyme. But it's more complicated than that. It's a hard disease to diagnose," he said.

Gleasner struggled to make his wife and two young children breakfast. He was often forgetful, confused and suffered vertigo.

He would enjoy his son, Clark's, hour-long hockey practices, then struggle to put the boy's equipment in the hockey bag for him.

Over the next three years, Gleasner had an MRI, two CAT scans, blood work repeatedly, and changed doctors several times. All the while, his symptoms got worse.

Then last fall, he switched physicians one last time, and despite having never tested positive for Lyme, he started receiving treatment for the disease.

Since then, Gleasner says he's gotten better. He can make it through most days without a nap; gets less confused and dizzy; and is even trying to ride his bike again. He believes he will continue to recover. But he'll never get the last three years back.

"When I rode the Divide, my daughter was 3. More than half her life she's known me as the guy who is stiff and hurts. I'm not the guy I was, but I can't tell that to my kids. They see what they see now," he said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph

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