Be Kind to Ticks, They Could Save Your Life

By Steve DiMattei

Ticks, the mere mention of the word will cause hair to stand up on the back of your neck. These tiny little disease-carrying arachnids crawl on you and bury themselves in your skin. You can try to crush them, even light them on fire, but they are nearly impossible to kill. Most people would just as soon rid the planet of these critters, but I hold them in higher esteem. You see, one of them saved my life.

Back in June of 2011, after several days of rain, grass in neighborhood yards was well above ankle high. We were finding ticks galore in our house. My wife had been treated for Lyme disease two years earlier so our family was trained to be on the lookout for the freeloading blood suckers.

One night in bed, I removed a deformed-looking scab from my leg and immediately reached for a magnifying glass. Those of you over 45 understand the concept of having a magnifying glass at the ready. To my horror I saw the disgusting head of the tick and those tiny legs. The next day I headed to my doctor to be tested for Lyme. The doctor took one look at the tick I brought, prescribed an antibiotic and told me to come back in three weeks.

He also had me take a couple of deep breaths as he listened to my heart. It was then that he asked what was going on with my heart murmur. ”Nothing,” I replied, “a minor heart defect I had all my life.” He told me to make an appointment with my cardiologist immediately.

Within three weeks I went from “Do I have Lyme disease?” to “You have an aortic aneurysm, and need open heart surgery. Now.”

An aortic aneurysm is a bulging in the aorta, and if it is not corrected the aorta will eventually tear or burst. About 15,000 people die from this every year typically because the person is asymptomatic until the aorta tears or bursts. After successful surgery in August, I’m back to work with a better appreciation for life even if the scars on my chest make me look like a Frankenstein wannabe.

As for my new found fondness for ticks, anytime I’m in a quiet room, and every night as I put my head on my pillow, I get a gentle reminder from the mechanical valve in my heart; tick, tick, tick, tick…

About the author: Steve DiMattei works in the Quality Assurance Unit at EPA New England’s Lab, and is an avid golfer.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.