A dying mum-of-two is facing a race against time to raise funds for potentially life-saving treatment after she contracted Lyme disease – from being bitten by a tick.
Heidi Luckraft, 39, was out walking her dog in a park when she was bitten by the tiny blood-sucking creature in 2012.
She fell ill with the bacterial infection, which can cause neurological damage and crushing fatigue, but was misdiagnosed with chronic tiredness, polycystic ovaries and MS.
It took three years for the children’s entertainer to get a correct diagnosis and she has now been told her that her illness is so advanced it is untreatable in the UK.
Heidi, who lives with husband Mark, 41, and their two children Ocian, 16, and Rihanna, 13, is now trying to raise £60,000 in order to fund pioneering treatment in the USA.
She said: “I can’t face the prospect of leaving my children behind, no mother wants to do that.
“There is nothing anyone can do for me over here but there’s treatment in the USA that can help.
“I am in constant pain and I can’t do the things that I want. Any opportunity to be given some quality of life I would be grateful for.
“I have hit rock bottom and that is why we are trying to raise funds. It got so bad that I told my husband to fly me to Switzerland to end it all.
“My brain hurts after a while, I’m on so many different medications and I sleep all the time. I need to do something because this is no life to have.”
She said the disease has “stripped” her of who she is, but added that she’s “determined to not give up”.
Heidi, who owns Dazzle Entertainment, a company which sends performers to both adult and children’s birthday parties, weddings and corporate events, continues to work while battling the disease.
She added: “I do push myself more than I should but I love what I do and I don’t want to be beaten by this. Sometimes I have to accept when my body won’t let me. But when I get a boost, I do what I can.
“But I’m getting worse and if I do not get help, this could be the end for me.”
If the family can raise enough money, the treatment will be performed by leading expert Dr Richard Horowitz in New York, USA.
He has been treating Lyme disease using immune boosting IV therapies and stem cell treatments for 28 years and helped singer Avril Lavigne with her battle against it.
There is currently no vaccine to protect against the disease, and although it still remains rare, UK cases confirmed by laboratory testing have risen from 346 in 2003 to about 1,000 in 2015.
Long-time friend Jodie Deegan, 34, who set up a JustGiving page to raise money for Heidi’s treatment, added: “She kept it a secret for a long time. She was suffering in silence. She is in a lot of pain each and every day because her organs are aching.
“Her heartbeat is also rapid and sometimes beats at 220 beats a minute. Just last week she had to be resuscitated three times and she is on 29 different medications a day to try and help the pain.
“Heidi does loads of charity work as well. Even while being so unwell, she still manages to dress up as Super Girl or Elsa and perform for kids on the cancer wards – sometimes she even goes into the hospital in a wheelchair and collapses on the way out.
“She is an amazing woman. She has been through so much.”
Jodie highlighted the importance of raising awareness of the disease too. She said: “We want people to recognise the signs. There are no trained Lyme doctors in the UK so hers went misdiagnosed.
“They thought it was ME or MS. Then said it was chronic fatigue or polycystic ovaries. By the time they noticed it was too late.”
The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is due to draw up guidelines in 2018 setting out the care that those diagnosed with the condition should receive.
But Jodie believes the long wait will mean it could be “too late” for her best friend. She added: “She’s the only family I’ve ever had. I can’t stand to see her dying before my eyes.
“But this treatment could make it go away if we can raise the money in time. We’ve just to got to move fast otherwise I fear it could be too late.
“We don’t know how much time she has left otherwise.”
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks, which are found in woodland and heath areas and feed on the blood of birds and mammals.
Experts believe cases are rising as a result of changes in Britain’s climate and increasing numbers of housing developments in rural areas.
To prevent being bitten, health officials advise wearing long sleeves and light coloured clothes when out and about in the countryside.
Dr Hany Elsheikha, associate professor of parasitology at the University of Nottingham, said: “If it is caught early enough, Lyme disease can be effectively treated and cured with antibiotics.
“However untreated it will cause the bacteria to be distributed throughout the body and cause permanent damage to the nervous system and the muscles and joints.
“Some people can live with this for years, maybe for decades, but it depends and some will respond differently to the bacteria and the treatment.”
Registered charity Lyme Disease Action works to raise awareness of the disease among the public and health professionals.
Chairwoman Stella Huyshe-Shires said: “Awareness is key. We are steadily improving knowledge amongst GPs as well as the public, and working to influence research and improve diagnosis and treatment.”
In addition to raising money for her own treatment, Heidi now wants to raise public awareness of the disease.
She said: “I want others to be aware of the dangers. If I can help stop this happening to someone else then I will be happy. This disease can target anyone and children should not have to experience this pain.
“I want people to look out for the signs and symptoms so that they can get treatment sooner.
“For me, it could be too late. But if I can help prevent someone else going through the same, then I will be happy.”
To donate to Heidi’s cause, visit https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/HeidiLuckraft.