Picture this: It’s summer break and you’re trying to enjoy the sunny weather, but doing even the simplest activity makes you feel exhausted. You eat something to get your energy up, but it makes you feel instantly nauseous. As you make your way up the stairs to head to bed, you notice you can barely keep your balance — in fact, your legs are beginning to go numb. Finally you go to bed, but when you wake up, you discover that you’ve begun to lose your vision. What is happening? You wonder. I was perfectly healthy just a day ago.
This is the experience 24-year-old Staten Island, N.Y., native Marina Morgan went through in the summer of 2015. Marina was an active girl who loved running and singing when she was suddenly hit with a wave of symptoms no doctor could explain. “I started having stomach and esophagus issues, and wasn’t receiving a clear diagnosis,” she tells J-14. “Between the summer and December, I lost 40 pounds.” Marina would even be so tired that many days, she couldn’t get out of bed. Plus, her entire body was in pain. “My fingers, legs, and toes would go completely numb,” she remembers. “I wasn’t able to sit for long periods of time.”
It was when she woke up with no vision in her right eye that her doctors were finally able nail down what the problem was. “After almost a year of testing, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease,” she says. “I may have gotten it while camping or out on a run.” Lyme disease is a bacteria transmitted by ticks that can infect and spread to any part of a person’s body, like their joints, heart or nervous system.
Although if finally getting a diagnosis was a huge relief for Marina, it was only the beginning of her battle. Often known as an “invisible illness,” Marina’s disease was one that her friends didn’t understand. “From the outside, it was hard to tell that something was wrong because it wasn’t affecting my appearance,” Marina tells us. “Because they couldn’t see anything physically wrong, they just assumed it was all in my head. Their input made me question myself, but I trusted what my body was telling me.”
Having Lyme disease has cost Marina more than a few friendships because she can’t do a lot of things they want to do. “Lyme disease makes every part of my day more difficult,” she shares. “Hanging out with friends is hard because I don’t have the energy to do the same things as them. Shopping in crowded spaces and walking up and down stairs is challenging because I walk with a cane for stability.”
Beating Lyme disease is an uphill battle, but Marina won’t give up. “I know that I will recover, the process is just slow,” she shares. “I will get there and be able to do all those things again.” And no matter what comes her way, she’s ready. “I plan to turn a negative into a positive by raising awareness,” she says. “I want to bring hope to those who are suffering from it."
Interview and story by Toni Ferrigno. "Real girl Marina: "An invisible disease took over my life!" originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of J-14.