ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A wildlife officer in St. Johns County hopes to raise awareness about Lyme disease after he was diagnosed with the illness, which he believes he got while on the job.
It took years for doctors to diagnose Officer Lee Lawshe of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission with the disease. Because it took so long, Lawshe said he will be fighting it for the rest of his life.
“It’s really just turned our lives upside down,” Lawshe said. “I used to do whatever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to."
Some days Lawshe does OK, while other days he can barely get out of bed. He said there’s no specific treatment, due to the stage of the disease, and he takes medications daily.
From catching criminals in the woods, to saving a man trapped in dense swamp at a hunting club, Lawshe spends the majority of his time on the job outdoors. He loves his job, but said it’s what led to his diagnosis last year of Lyme disease.
“I’ll go in the woods and pull 100 ticks off me,” Lawshe said. “My wife sits and picks ticks off, 40 or 50 at a time. Do I get them all? Maybe, maybe not.”
According to a recent Quest Laboratories study, there was a 77% increase in the number of Lyme disease infections in Florida between 2015 and 2017. Lawshe is hoping state lawmakers will get involved.
“Up in New Jersey, (it's) the first state in the nation, I believe, that passed something recognizing they have chronic Lyme disease, and I’d like to see that passed here too,” Lawshe said. “It would make the insurance companies be able to help people like myself, or you, the common folk who can’t afford to deal with this.”
Lawshe had to take six months off in 2018 to get better and remains an officer with FWC. He was named officer of the year in 2014. He loves his job and said he’s not going to let the disease control his life.
Lawshe and two of his fellow officers who also were diagnosed with the disease, warn that the testing is not always accurate. They encourage anyone who believes they have Lyme disease, even after a negative test, to get a second opinion. The earlier the disease is caught, the more likely it can be treated.
News4Jax reached out to FWC about Lyme disease among its employees and the agency sent a statement that said:
“We are taking all preventative measures including the use of enhanced repellants. We stand behind our employees and will do anything we can to support them and ensure their well-being.”
You can learn more about the disease, including symptoms and treatment, by heading to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention's website.