Lyme disease doc features area victims

Brandon-area filmmaker Glen Kirby portrays the daily struggle of living with an under-reported disease spread by ticks found throughout southern Manitoba.

Bryce Pettinger cannot pin down exactly when the disease struck him. The 28-year-old Brandonite had been suffering from various health issues since the age of 18, but things started to get worse in the summer of 2015.

“I’m not totally sure how long I’ve had it; if, in fact, I contracted it when I was 18 or sometime in 2015,” said Pettinger, one of a handful of subjects featured in a documentary about Lyme disease that will be showing at the Grand Valley Community Church on Oct. 9.

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“I’ve been an avid outdoorsman pretty much all of my life. I’ve hunted lots and love the outdoors, but I never saw a tick, necessarily. I could have got it from a dog tick, but in terms of a deer tick, I’ve never seen one, myself.”

Tick Tick Tock – Lyme Disease in Manitoba is a locally-produced documentary that has patients describe their struggles with a disease that few people know a lot about, but seems to be more and more prevalent in Manitoba. Released late last spring, the film was well received when screened in Souris, Man. in May as part of National Lyme Disease Awareness Month. The film was also shown in Mather and Brandon, the hometowns of Brynn Mayo – another Lyme disease patient - and Pettinger respectively. It also toured through other Westman communities such as Melita, Deloraine, Boissevain and Virden.

The film is being rescreened in Brandon just before the opening meeting of a Lyme disease support group being organized by Pettinger’s mother and father, Michele and Kelly Pettinger.

Lyme disease is spread by black-legged ticks, which infect an estimated 300,000 people in North America on an annual basis. The symptoms of the disease are wide-ranging. Early signs include muscle aches and chills, but as it develops in its victims, they run a gambit of issues that are often mistaken for other illnesses and diseases; everything from severe join pain, paralysis and cardiac problems to debilitating fatigue, weakness, alongside breathing and digestive problems.

Pettinger’s symptoms included pain, digestive problems, fatigue and severe weakness; the latter being somewhat foreign to someone who was once a natural bodybuilder that lifted weights on a daily basis. Today, he still tries to get to the gym three to five days a week, but he is no longer capable of working out like he used to.

“There are some good days, but I will always have something going on,” he said. “I can function pretty normally. The bad days or weeks or months can be quite bad… Compared to others I’ve been lucky.”

Pettinger works full-time as a life-skills coach for an area evangelical organization. He helps people who are at risk of becoming or are already homeless. He is also piano teacher.

“In the summer of 2015, it was pretty bad, but I’ve made quite a few leaps forward since then. I’m a fair amount better,” he said. “Right now, I may have daily muscle spasms, tingling, extreme fatigue, coordination issues and cognitive issues, which used to be quite bad. Now, I get them on rarer occasions, but they come back.”

Tick Tick Tock was written, produced, directed and filmed by Brandon-area documentarian Glen Kirby. The former journalist had a work colleague diagnosed with Lyme disease and he has covered several stories about sufferers while working for various television stations.

“From those experiences, I wanted to bring the information about Lyme disease to a wider audience in a more thorough way than just a small story,” said Kirby, who has been shooting documentaries since he attended high school in the 1970s. “I thought I’d see if I could put a documentary together. It took a couple of years to put the financing in place.”

Kirby, who worked as a national documentary producer for CBC during his 14-year career with the public broadcaster, feels the film genre is one of the most effective ways to communicate information to the public. Tick Tick Tock struck a chord with audiences last spring, when many individuals who saw the film would approach the movie’s subjects about their experiences. Kirby said it “percolated discussion” about the topic, which is extremely beneficial for an awareness campaign.

“I found it surprising that so many people who showed up at the screenings had a personal connection with Lyme (disease) because when you look at the statistics in Manitoba, it would appear it’s an under-reported illness,” he said.

“If there’s one message that people should take away from the documentary, it’s to safeguard yourself and your family by knowing how Lyme disease is spread and what one can do if you are infected. If people learn nothing else from the documentary, I want them to know that Lyme disease is here and it can affect your life in a horrible way. That message is communicated through the personal stories of several people in a poignant way.”

Tick Tick Tock – Lyme Disease in Manitoba will be screened at the Grand Valley Community Church at 1620 Braecrest Drive in Brandon at 7 p.m. on Oct. 9. Admission is free, but donations to cover the costs of the showing will be accepted.

For more information on the Pettinger’s Lyme disease support group, contact Michele at (204) 727-5612. The first gathering is planned for Oct. 10 at 7 p.m

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