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Connolly's long illness mystery solved

Mooroopna footballer Aidan Foott's diagnosis leads to his aunt Penny Connolly learning she also has Lyme disease after battling illness since she was a teenager.

DAMEN FRANCIS July 17, 2014 3:05am

When Mooroopna footballer Aidan Foott was diagnosed with Lyme disease, little did he know it would trigger the end of a 30-year mystery for a member of his extended family.

Foott’s aunt Penny Connolly, wife of former AFL coach and well-known Shepparton footballing identity Chris, unknowingly battled the tick-borne infection since she was a teenager.

Upon her nephew’s diagnosis in September last year, Connolly got herself tested and has been on the road to recovery since.

‘‘I’ve been treated since last October and I would say I’m 60 per cent better, which is unbelievable,’’ Connolly said.

‘‘Just before I got tested I was in an enormously bad way, so much so the alternative was pretty ordinary.

‘‘Because mine has been there so long and developed so much mine is more intensive than Aidan’s.

‘‘At least we know what it is now and we can try and manage it.’’

When The News spoke to Foott two weeks ago, he had just played his first game of football in 3 years.

Like Foott, who believed he contracted the infection on a basketball trip to NSW, Connolly traced the origins of the illness back to a trip interstate.

‘‘We used to go to Noosa every year with the family and I went up with Chris one time and I just had this huge reaction,’’ she said.

Years later, Connolly unwittingly passed the infection on to daughter Emma, 22, who is also now slowly regaining her health.

Foott’s battle with the disease is unrelated, but adds an ironic twist to the tale.

Lyme disease is not tested for in Australia, with Foott and Connolly’s blood sent to Germany for analysis.

The borrelia bacteria associated with Lyme disease feeds on red blood cells and can affect the host’s joints, heart, brain and nervous, digestive and immune systems, with chronic fatigue a common symptom.

Connolly works full-time as a librarian at Lilydale High School, but had to give up physical education teaching and admitted staying awake beyond 7.30pm was rare.

Her treatment — consisting of a host of antibiotics and natural health remedies — costs about $1200 every 21 days and while it appears to be working, she remained cautiously optimistic.

‘‘Because I’ve had it so long and you’re questioning your health all that time I’m just so scared that once I stop all this treatment I’ll go back to what I was, so I’m not totally convinced yet,’’ Connolly said.

‘‘You just don’t want to go backwards.’’

Connolly hoped to raise awareness of the disease and improve the way patients were diagnosed and treated.

‘‘It’s such a hard disease in itself because you’re just so exhausted and tired and then to be going to doctors and taking all this medication it takes it out of you as well,’’ she said.

‘‘I would hate for this to happen to anybody and the sooner you catch it the quicker you can recover.’’

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