Family wants ill woman to see specialist Money needed to buy van to take patient to N.Y.

September 26, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Nineteen months ago, Edwina Voelcker was boasting about her great-niece, Keri Emge, who had just finished her first semester at Anne Arundel Community College and "could do whatever she put her mind to."

Now, Emge, 21, is battling what her family fears is Lyme disease. She has been treated locally by a number of doctors. She has improved and suffered relapses, leaving her family mystified and doctors unwilling to speculate on her diagnosis or her chances for recovery.

But this much is certain, Keri Emge cannot eat, talk or walk on her own.

Her family wants to take her to a Lyme disease specialist in New York they read about in a medical journal, hoping he can clear up the mystery and get her on the road to recovery. And Voelcker, 53, of Pasadena, is leading a family effort to raise $25,000 to buy a specially equipped van to transport Emge to New York and then provide her transportation when she returns home.

"It's not like we can take her body and put her in a car," said Voelcker. "There's no way to transport her at all except by this."

Donna Emge, Keri's mother, said the family applied for medical assistance for her daughter because their insurance no longer covered her. But medical assistance won't pay for the special tests they are seeking, nor will it pay for the van.

Keri Emge is being treated at Genesis Eldercare-The Pines in Easton, where Dr. Michael Crowley, the medical director, said her condition has improved slowly. Although she can't talk, walk or breathe without a tube in her throat, her doctors have reduced the amount of antibiotics and pain relievers she receives.

"We see that as an improvement," Crowley said. "And she seems to be less frightened, which is a good thing."

Lyme disease is caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria transmitted by the bite of the tiny deer tick. It usually produces a bull's-eye-shaped rash and flu symptoms. Without prompt treatment with antibiotics, it can affect the heart and cause lifelong joint pain.

"Patients who don't get quick treatment can have long-lasting effects such as heart dysfunction," said Bob Howard, spokesman for the National Center for Infectious Disease at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Keri Emge suffered only bumps and bruises when she was growing up in Sudlersville, about 12 miles west of Dover, Del., on the Eastern Shore, leading cheers for high school sports teams and raising goats for 4-H fairs.

But after she finished her first semester at Anne Arundel Community College in December 1994, Emge complained of frequent headaches. In February 1995, she was admitted to Union Hospital in Elkton with headaches, fever and joint pain, her mother said.

When her condition worsened, she was transferred to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, officials there confirmed. She improved when she was given a combination of antibiotics known to treat Lyme disease and was transferred earlier this month to the nursing home in Easton, where Crowley has continued the treatment.

Emge's family has made an appointment Oct. 16 with a Lyme disease specialist in Armonk, N.Y.

To make a donation, send a check payable to KERI'S VAN to the Bank of Glen Burnie, 8707 Fort Smallwood Road, P.O. Box 550, Pasadena 21122-0550.

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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