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Last Updated: Friday, 25 November 2005, 05:46 GMT
Paralysed by a tick bite
by Shirley Henry
BBC News, Norwich

Mel Clarke
Mel said she was feeling physically well before falling unconscious
For archery champion Mel Clarke it appeared to be a case of just holding her nerve to achieve her goal.

When she arrived at the World Archery Championships in America in 2003, she was ranked second nationally at the sport and was one of the competition favourites.

Yet soon after the tournament began, the 23-year-old from Taverham, Norfolk, was no longer involved in a battle to win a medal - she was fighting for her life.

She explains: "One moment I was firing arrows really well... then within about 20 minutes I was unconscious."

Doctors feared she only had 24 hours to live as she lay connected to a life support machine, unable to breathe by herself.

Mel, who had prided herself on her physical and mental fitness, was now close to death.

And the trigger for this catastrophic turn of events? A bite from a tick.

Mel Clarke
Doctors said Mel would not survive the night

Doctors believe the tiny insect had infected Mel with Lyme Disease, a potentially fatal bug which can also lead to arthritis, heart and nerve problems.

The disease is caused by a bacterium which is transmitted to humans by ticks that live on some animals.

But, with a show of determination and bravery honed in top-level competition, Mel has overcome the odds - and won a gold medal in the World Disabled Archery Championships in Italy this year.

In 2003, she had travelled to Poland, France and Turkey for archery championships.

But while on tour in New York that July, Mel said she quickly went from firing arrows to losing consciousness.

Lyme Disease
The disease was named after an America town where a cluster of cases occurred in 1975
Ticks that live on animals such as mice and deer may carry the bacteria
The disease can be transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected tick
Early indicators of an infection may include prolonged flu-like symptoms
The infection can be treated with antibiotics

Mel recalls: "I suddenly got a pain in my chest and my right side, my heart started beating quickly.

"My coach pulled me out of the sun because it was really hot and that's all I can remember until I woke up in hospital a couple of weeks later."

Mel was unconscious in hospital for about two weeks. She awoke to find she could not do anything for herself.

"I was shocked that I was there... I was on a ventilator, I couldn't breathe for myself and I was being tube fed.

"It was so unexpected... I was well beforehand.

"They (doctors) said I'd never fire another arrow, I was really gutted because I'd gone out there shooting really really well."

Mel Clarke
Mel said Lyme Disease has made her stronger

But Mel, who took up archery when she was 16, vowed that she would find a way to fight back.

When it was time for Mel to return home, she was told by doctors that she had Lyme Disease.

And while she won her fight to survive, the infection has exacted a terrible price.

The disease has left Mel paralysed from the waist down and blind in one eye.

The disabilities come on top of an earlier arthritic condition called reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which has meant Mel used a wheelchair and crutches since she was 11.

Training for Beijing

When Mel felt well enough, she set herself a new challenge, to compete in the World Disabled Archery Championships in 2005.

But the terrifying memory of that fateful day in 2003 when she was taken ill at her last world championship still haunted her.

In September, she flew the flag for the British team and won a gold medal.

"It's been a two-year battle but I think it's made me stronger. Of course there are days when nothing seems to go right, but everyone has those don't they?" she said.

Mel holds 10 national able-bodied records and six International Paralympic World records.

She is now training for the Beijing Paralympics in 2008.




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