Sipping her steaming takeaway coffee each morning on the way to work was a favourite part of Liz Rowley’s daily ritual.
But unbeknown to the mum-of-three, her beloved cappuccino was making her critically ill.
Liz, 44, who lives on the NSW mid-north coast, has a rare anaphylactic allergy to all meat, dairy and other products derived from mammals.
She unknowingly developed the potentially fatal alpha-gal allergy – often confused with Lyme disease – from a tick bite five years ago, and she’s just one of a rapidly sky rocketing number of Aussies plagued by the horror disorder.
‘I have to be so vigilant about what I eat now,’ says Liz. ‘I am vegan, but can eat chicken and fish. It’s been a huge adjustment. My entire diet has had to change.
‘Before I was bitten, I loved meat – particularly pork, roast lamb and steak. Now even being in a room while meat is being cooked can make me ill.’
Liz vividly recalls being bitten by two ticks while on a drive out of town with her husband Chris, 47.
‘One of the bites was on my temple and the other was just behind my ear,’ she tells. ‘The bites were just really sore, but I didn’t think a lot of it. Then I developed a terrible migraine and started to feel sick on-and-off.’
Over the next few years, Liz saw one doctor after another as her health continued to deteriorate. Yet no-one could shed any light on the situation.
‘I was getting sicker and sicker,’ she explains. ‘It was suggested I may have anxiety or depression, but I knew it wasn’t that. I would ache all over and felt like I’d been run over by a thousand freight trains.
‘Then I started to feel terribly short of breath at night, as there can be a several-hour delay between eating red meat and the allergic reaction. I cleaned my bedroom constantly, thinking perhaps there was a bit of mould that was making me so sick.’
At her wits’ end in 2015, Liz was referred to an allergist.
‘I was desperate by this point,’ she recalls. ‘If I’d had a coffee and meat during the day, I’d be hardly able to walk or even breathe by the night.
‘I went back to my doctor crying and begging him to do something, and he sent me to this allergist. As soon as I mentioned I’d been bitten by ticks a few years before, a blood test was ordered, confirming I had alpha-gal allergy. I’d never even heard of such a thing.’
While her daily life remains a challenge, Liz now knows the value of health and a good diet.
‘I really want to encourage other people to trust their instincts and to keep looking for answers if they have health issues,’ she says.
This story originally appeared in this week’s New Idea – Out now.
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