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Two New Jersey Women Claim Malaria Saved Them From Lyme Disease

November 10, 1990

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Two women said Friday they deliberately contracted malaria in an unorthodox procedure that they say has cured them of Lyme disease.

Cyndi Monahan and Sallie Timpone, both of New Jersey, flew in late September to a Mexican medical college, where they were infected with blood tainted by a non-recurring strain of malaria.

In a telephone interview Friday from Lincoln, Neb., where they are attending the Midwest Lyme Disease Symposium, the two said that weeks after malarial fevers started to ravage their bodies, they woke up weak but pain- free for the first time in years.

Proponents of the treatment believe malaria triggers an immune reaction that destroys the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease, which is transmitted by deer ticks.

Monahan, a 29-year-old former bodybuilder and aerobics instructor, had spent 2 1/2 years curled up in a fetal position because the Lyme disease had damaged her joints.

She said she developed three cancerous lesions as a result of the illness, but her oncologist has declared her free of all signs of malignancy since her trip to Mexico.

″I was scared out of my pants,″ she said. ″I’m going to some Third World country, getting injected with malaria. But I just knew this was going to work. I feel like the Poltergeist - ’She’s back 3/8‴

Timpone, 30, said she and Monahan are confident the disease will not recur.

But she warned other sufferers against rushing to Mexico in a panic. Without 24-hour treatment at home for the month while the fevers rage, the therapy should not be risked, she said.

Both women - two of 13 people who have tried the therapy - said they risked the treatment out of desperation, not hope. Years of antibiotic treatments failed to clear up the symptoms.

Malaria therapy, which has not been approved for practice in the United States, was proposed as treatment for Lyme disease by Dr. Henry Heimlich, best known for the eponymous maneuver used to save choking victims.

Also speaking from Nebraska, he said he borrowed the idea from an old treatment for syphilis. Malaria therapy had been used for nearly 60 years until 1975 to treat that malady, Heimlich said.

He thought the therapy would be effective because syphilis and Lyme disease are essentially similar, both being caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria called spirochetes.

″From all appearances from these patients, we can say that people who were severely crippled ... are well at this moment and are not in pain,″ he said. ″We cannot answer what percentage will have these results. I can’t answer if they can be reinfected again or what will happen the rest of their lives.″

Willy Burdorfer, the research scientist credited with discovering the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, described himself as ″cautiously excited″ about the treatment.

″I hope it works and I hope these patients who have taken this treatment do not relapse,″ he said. ″But it’s a touchy subject. I hope there won’t be a reaction of panic, with a lot of people saying, ‘Let’s go to Mexico and be cured.’

″They have to be cautious. And a lot of physicians will not subscribe to (it) because you’re going to be infected with another agent.″

Dr. David Dennis, the physician in charge of the Lyme disease program at the Atlanta-based federal Centers for Disease Control, said the treatment is too preliminary for him to comment on its merit.

The other 11 people who have flown down to Mexico to become infected still have not contracted the disease, which has an incubation period that can extend to several weeks, Heimlich said.

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