Stand Up and Be Counted!

Bob Butler

Bob Butler

Ever since his graduation from URI in 1963, Bob Butler has been active.

A structural engineer who owned his own business, Butler found time to pursue local politics, volunteer for local projects, indulge in a favorite hobby-researching historic cemeteries- and raising a family.

At 71, he looks in fine physical shape.

But what he hadn't planned on was the debilitating effects of two different tick-borne diseases... diseases that severely altered his lifestyle over the last several years.

In 2003, he started having some physical problems-fever, chills, night sweats and joint pains. He started losing weight even though his dietary routine was unchanged. He also had another issue-trouble remembering things. "My memory was so bad, my wife had me tested at Rhode Island Hospital for early Alzheimer's," he says. The testing was negative but he started wondering "was I just getting goofy or what?"

His primary care doctor referred him to a number of specialists. "Thirty-five blood tests later they determined I had babesiosis." The diagnosis was difficult to determine he notes "because in 2003 babesiosis was not a commonly known malady in my area."

The most problematic issue was his memory, he says-he was in the habit of storing everything to do with his work between his ears-phone numbers, construction formulas, a host of technical things he used in his structural design business which generally involved small building projects.

The persistent memory issues finally drove him to a major decision-closing down his own business; "I was afraid of making mistakes. I didn't want to have anything I did be responsible for having somebody maimed or killed-so that was the end of that."

After his diagnosis, he was put on heavy-duty antibiotics and anti-parasitic drugs. It was three years before his symptoms subsided but the respite from tick problems was not long.

In 2007 the symptoms started up again-joint pains, fevers, chills and he went in for more testing. This time the tests showed he had erlichiosis which since has been renamed anaplasmosis. "I am dancing all around Lyme," he says, noting that he has not tested positive for the most notorious third in the trio of local tick-borne diseases.

"Lots of people I've talked to seem to have the same issues-reoccurring joint pains, fevers, chills. There's a lot that is still not known. Thank God there are people like Dr. (Thomas) Mather who are heavily involved in this thing."

Butler said he got involved in Mather's STAND UP AGAINST LYME project when he received an e-mail blast from URI describing the project and asking people to come forward with their own tick-borne disease stories. He immediately responded.

Butler suspects many of his encounters with ticks happen on his 20-acre property which he and his wife, Charlene, are managing into a wildlife refuge via the URI-connected Covert program. The Butlers have tick encounters on another project too-they both are heavily involved in finding and researching the 153 historic cemeteries in their hometown-they have found 145 of them so far. Old unkempt cemeteries are breeding grounds for ticks-they thrive in tall grass and leaf litter.

The interesting thing, says Butler, is that he frequently finds ticks on his wife after they come in from the woods but she's never had a tick disease problem."She either has good luck or there is something in the chemistry of her body" that wards off tick diseases, he says.

Butler, who recently stepped down from the West Greenwich Town Council after 10 years and is involved in two building committees in town, says he has no plans to end his two main hobbies-managing his property for wildlife and researching old cemeteries.

He says he is a firm believer in the use of Permethrin spray on clothes and that he wears when venturing out into the woods.

He says the work that URI is doing to promote tick disease prevention methods is commendable and he is grateful that today there seems to be far more people concerned with the diseases than existed in 2003 when he first contracted babesiosis.

"The good news," he says, "is that a lot of people are concerned about it today and if you have anything to do with the outdoors, there are ways to prevent tick problems."

Written By Rudi Hempe