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Checking in with Sarah Surkos five years later

October 27, 2021

Sarah Surkos, analyst, Procurement, is a Lyme Disease awareness advocate and spokesperson, who has appeared on CTV News several times. Photo: Sarah Surkos

Last week, our colleagues in Sudbury received a Safety & Health Update about several recent incidents involving ticks in and around our property. The timing aligns with statistics gathered by Geneticks, a private tick-testing lab in Canada, which point to November as the month with the highest recorded tick bites (most people mistakenly think it’s summer). Ticks can transmit Lyme Disease to humans, and if left untreated, can result in lifelong, debilitating health issues. Sarah Surkos knows this all too well. 

In 2016, Vale News wrote a story about the Toronto-based Procurement analyst and her family’s experience with undiagnosed Lyme Disease titled, What’s happening to my daughter?’ Mother, daughter endure three-year runaround

Sarah Surkos’ son, Victor, hasn’t let Lyme Disease slow him down! He is an AA goaltender in the GTHL for his U13 team. Photo: Sarah Surkos

We reached out to Sarah to see how she and her family have been doing over the last five years. As a Lyme Disease awareness advocate and spokesperson, who has appeared on several CTV News segments (links below) and keeps her own team at work informed and safe with twice-yearly information emails, Sarah exemplifies our company purpose: “Improve life and transform the future. Together. 

Here’s her latest update:  

“My son, Victor, went through three years of treatment and is now in remission. During his treatment he actually got bit by another tick at school. Because of our diligent “tick checks” we caught it right away and got him on a course of preventative antibiotics. He went through many struggles during his treatment including his eyes being affected and he also had cognitive issues that affected his studies at school. Victor is still sugar- and gluten-free to maintain his strength and to ensure he stays in remission; like cancer, Lyme Disease can be triggered at any point if he gets weak. Today, he is at grade-level and is an AA goaltender in the GTHL for his U13 team.  

Sarah flies two flags at her family cottage. The bottom flag reads, “Not going down without a fight. Cure Lyme Disease.” Sarah said the flag here, and the one on her lawn at her home, garner lots of attention and questions. Photo: Sarah Surkos.

My daughter, Evelyn, is also in remission after five years of treatment and is now in university.   

I have had a harder time getting healthy and am still in treatment. The doctors tried antibiotics but they didn’t work, so I’m on natural treatments, which is the longer, slower route. I still have good and bad days because the time it took to get a diagnosis caused long-term neurological side effects that will stay with me forever. That said, I am 100 per cent better today than when I first started treatment. 

We continue to take it day by day, and to advocate, speak out and share our story with the hopes of helping anyone who needs it. We are constantly approached by people who see the Cure Lyme Disease flags on our lawn at home at our cottage.” 

Click on the links below to watch CTV News interviews with Sarah and her family: 

Good sources of information:

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  1. Repellents: use 20 per cent icaridin/picaridin repellent which has been proven effective against ticks and mosquitos. As effective as deet, but not as toxic. 
  2. For children and dogs: There are natural essential oil based spray from www.Atlantick.ca & https://www.ticks-n-all.com/. The key effective ingredient is lemongrass essential oil which was tested in a lab shown effective to repel ticks. To save money, you can make your own spray and in addition to lemongrass, try peppermint and lavender oils. It smells great and is generally regarded as safe. There are lots of recipes on the internet – do your homework on safe dilution levels for kids, adults and dogs. Never apply straight essential oils and be aware some essential oils are not safe for babies or pets.
  3. For dogs: If you choose not to use a chemical tick repellent, use the natural spray (mentioned above). You can also soak a bandana in the spray (always diluted, never use straight oils), let it dry and tie around the dog’s neck. Repeat when smell disappears. Another good tip is to comb/brush your dog after walks and also try a lint roller right after walks to pick up loose ticks. Be aware dogs (and cats) can bring ticks into your house. Rose geranium oils work well also. 
  4. For kids and adults: Make tick checks part of daily routine, especially around the back of the neck/scalp/ears, groin, back of knees and naval. Change clothes after outdoor play and throw clothes in the dryer on high heat to kill ticks. Also, a shower, bath or swim after outdoor play is good to wash away loose ticks.
  5. Tick removal: Do not use matches or essential oil. Use a tick tool or fine tipped tweezers, grasp close to the skin and firmly pull straight out. Do not spin or squeeze at the belly. Magnotta Winery’s online store sells these tick kits
  6. Testing: Public Health only tests blacklegged ticks, not dog ticks or any other type of ticks. I recommend considering private testing at Geneticks. It’s a quick turnaround and great peace of mind. They also share statistics with information about different varieties of ticks, Lyme as well as other diseases the parasites carry on their website. Finally, the most amazing news is they have partnered with Ontario medical doctors who are knowledgeable and can arrange virtual medical appointments to discuss the bite and any symptoms as well as the testing. This is costly, so another strategy to keep costs down is save your ticks in the freezer (double Ziploc, or a tight lid container in a Ziploc), write the date and where it was found, and if any symptoms develop in people or dogs, you can choose to have the tick tested at that time.

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