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Lyme disease can’t hold this artist back

'Missing Not a Beat' by Eva Haughie.

There was a time when Lyme disease made artist Eva Haughie so sick she could no longer recognize her own work.

“In 1998 I was teaching [art workshops] and by 1999 I was like an Alzheimer’s patient,” recalled the Manorville native, who said she suffered from encephalitis, or swelling of the brain’s lining, caused by the tick-borne illness. “I could be looking at the paintings hanging in my house and nothing was registering.”

Ms. Haughie, who founded the Empire State Lyme Disease Association in 2006, has struggled with the illness since 1989 — one year after she was bitten by a tick and two years after she made her professional foray into art. At the time, she was enrolled at workshops with painter Jacqueline Penney of Cutchogue.

TR0114_health_artist_2_C.jpg“When she used to take lessons with me, she would say, ‘I had trouble with this [painting],’” Ms. Penney recalled. “I said, ‘Well, what do you mean?’ She said, ‘I couldn’t stand up.’ I said, ‘Well, how did you paint it?’ She said, ‘Well, I was lying down.’ I said, ‘Well, holy moly.’”

Despite her determination, Ms. Haughie’s illness has periodically forced her to cut back on her work — specifically the number of art workshops she taught during the 1990s. Later this month, however, she’ll mark her return to that endeavor with a month-long painting workshop at Ms. Penney’s studio.

Get the stats:

• In 2014, New York was one of 14 states to report 96 percent of all the country’s confirmed Lyme disease cases.

• Lyme disease doesn’t occur nationwide and is heavily concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest.

• Between 2005 and 2014, Hawaii had zero cases of Lyme disease. Every other state had at least one.

• There were 2,853 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in New York State in 2014.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“I want to come back to doing things as much as I used to do,” Ms. Haughie said. “I used to be extremely involved, so I’m looking to do more of that.”

“I’ll do anything to get her going back again,” added Ms. Penney. “She’s well worth it.”

As founder and president of the nonprofit association, Ms. Haughie’s mission is to support people suffering from the illness. It’s also key for her to spread awareness about tick-borne diseases, which she said often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

One reason for this, Ms. Haughie speculated, is that students don’t learn enough about Lyme disease in medical school.

“They have to change the whole curriculum to address tick-borne diseases,” she said. “It’s not the doctors’ fault. The doctors are frustrated and so are the patients.”

In 2014, Ms. Haughie said, she sat on a state coalition that helped pass a bill designed to protect physicians from being sanctioned by the New York State Board of Professional Medical Conduct for prescribing long-term antibiotics for Lyme disease patients. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law in December 2014.

“It took a lot of hard work and dedication from patients,” Ms. Haughie said.

At the moment, legislation isn’t necessarily in the forefront of Ms. Haughie’s mind. Right now, she’s looking forward to teaching art again.

“One of the best things about a workshop is fellow artists being with fellow artists, working together and bouncing off ideas,” she said. “The creativity just flows.”

Caption: ‘Missing Not a Beat’ by Eva Haughie.

Have a health column idea for Rachel Young? Email her at [email protected]

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