ROXBURY – When Christina Alecci-Adamski heard people were selling shirts on her behalf to support her in a battle with Lyme disease, one thing came to the Roxbury alumna’s mind.
“Are people really going to buy them?”
The Roxbury community has bought them and more. On Friday night, the Gaels’ student section was filled with the light green shirts emblazed with “Team Christina” on one side and “Fight The Bite” on the other.
Alecci-Adamski, a 2008 graduate of Roxbury, is fighting a painful battle that has relegated her to a wheelchair and hospital bed. She sleeps almost exclusively on one side and is forced to wear backless shirts due to extreme back sensitivity.
“We have three dogs and if their dog hair touches my back, it’s awful,” she said. “I’ll know exactly where it is and ask my mom to take it off.”
The former mechanical engineer, an avid camper, started feeling sick about a year ago and her condition slowly deteriorated. Initially, she thought she came down with the flu and took a leave from her job at Stryker Orthopedics last November.
“I was sick but didn’t want to miss work,” she said. “But then when I started to have trouble with blurriness, my grandmother took me to the emergency room and we were trying to figure out what was wrong.”
Like many patients fighting Lyme disease, her illness was misdiagnosed several times. Once the problem was correctly identified and treatments changed, she began to show some improvement. But the visits to the Lyme physician, which can run close to $1,000, are not covered by health insurance, and Alecci-Adamski said some doctors have even refused to treat the disease.
The Roxbury community has stepped in to assist her.
In addition to the shirts, several other fundraisers like ribbons and bracelets and a GoFundMe page have brought in more than $16,000 (gofundme.com/goteamchristina) that will help offset some of Christina’s bills. Within 12 hours of setting up the page, donors raised more than $3,000, which helped pay for the initial appointment as well as blood work.
Kaila Mathis, the president of Roxbury’s Interact Club – a volunteer association at the high school — also battled the disease for two years. She has helped orchestrate the school-based efforts to raise money for the cause.
Mathis endured a similar path as Christina, spending weeks in the hospital after several misdiagnoses and thousands of dollars before finally determining the reason for her ailment.
“I got to the point where I stopped looking for an answer, and then my neighbor told me her niece had similar symptoms as I did,” said Mathis, who needed four blood tests, the last one of which checked for all strands of Lyme, to finally get on the right path. “To see what’s happening for Christina is great. I love the fact that community was so willing to support it.”
Karen Alecci, Christina’s mother, heard about Mathis’ condition and realized it was similar to what her daughter was going through. She eventually looked into another series of blood tests, which led to the proper diagnosis, and plan to use the same Morristown-based doctor as Mathis did.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported each year, with more that go uncounted. About 2,589 cases were confirmed last year in New Jersey, fourth highest of any state. Symptoms include fever, rash, facial paralysis, and arthritis, however, it can also lead to nerve pain, heart palpitations, or irregular heart beat, numbness and tingling, and issues with short-term memory.
“Everyone has jumped on board,” said Karen Alecci, who noted that things are starting to look better for her 25-year-old daughter. “It’s so impressive. I keep getting tears in my eyes and we’re all really feeling the love.”
Mathis, a junior, has been pain-free for seven months. She currently plays for the Gaels girls soccer team, which joined the boys soccer program in dedicating a game in Christina’s honor recently and raised a few thousand dollars for the cause.
Christina’s brother, Michael Alecci, plays on the football team and was blown away by the sea of green in the stands Friday night.
“This means so much to me and my family,” said Michael, who caught a pass for a two-point conversion to cap a 50-0 victory against Mount Olive. “This gives us hope and really makes a difference for us.”
She hopes that one day the medical community will have treatments that can be more easily accessed by those with medical coverage. For now, Alecci-Adamski is using Mathis as a pathway to hope and recovery and the encouragement from the community as a way to lift her spirits.
“I never could have imagined the support from everyone,” Alecci-Adamski said. “People I don’t even know are helping me out. It’s truly been amazing.”