Since he was 9 years old, John Donnally has suffered from various ailments, but doctors could never find the cause. After being misdiagnosed many times in the years following, Donnally eventually suffered facial paralysis from Bell’s palsy—a common side effect of Lyme disease. In 2003, when he was 13, Donnally, a resident of Madison, New Jersey, finally was correctly diagnosed when a Lyme disease test came back positive. He contracted the disease again in 2011.
Fueled by his multiple battles with Lyme, Donnally, now 24, is heading a nationwide campaign to fight tick-borne diseases with the Tick-Borne Disease Alliance (TBDA). This Sunday, Bite Back For A Cure, TBDA’s national campaign to build support for the fight against the impact of tick-borne diseases, will make a stop in Southampton with a 7.7-mile fundraising bike ride through the village.
Donnally and TBDA are hoping to raise awareness and galvanize local support for TBDA’s mission, which is to fund research and educate the public about the epidemic of tick-borne diseases. Donnally will lead the bike ride and meet with others affected by tick-borne diseases.
Riders of all ages are invited to participate in the bike ride, which will begin at Rotations Bicycle Center on Windmill Lane. Registration is $30 per person and $60 per family. Check-in will begin at 8 a.m., with the ride slated to start at 9:30 a.m. Bike rentals also will be available. A portion of the proceeds will go toward a plan to help fund a new Lyme disease center proposed at Southampton Hospital.
Donnally, a former lacrosse player at Colgate University, said he’s been wanting to do a nationwide campaign on Lyme disease for quite some time now, not just because of his battle with it but because of his family’s battle. His mother and sister have contracted it as well, and so has his father, Brian Donnally, a Southampton resident. And Donnally’s aunt contracted the disease just a few weeks ago.
“Joining up with the TBDA allows me to do it on a national level and in a positive way,” he said. “I know it’s a serious issue [in Southampton], and it’s becoming a serious issue in every state—really, in the Eastern states, where it’s reached a pandemic level. There is so much research we need to do around these diseases.”
Many communities on the South Fork have battled Lyme disease. North Haven Village residents, for example, recently have said they would like to get rid of ticks in their community, regardless of the cost.
Nan Kurzman, vice president of TBDA and a Westhampton Beach resident, said her organization is in the beginning stages of forging a relationship with Southampton Hospital and how the two groups can help the East End in its fight against Lyme disease. Kurzman and TBDA are hoping that a Lyme disease center can eventually be established at Southampton Hospital.
“If you mention it to anyone, if they have not been affected, someone closely related to them has been affected by Lyme,” Kurzman said. “I don’t think anyone doesn’t know about it.
“We need a tick center just because there is so much information that we don’t know about, and it’s not just Lyme disease,” she continued. “There are so many co-infections, so many individual strains of bacteria that are related to Lyme. There is so much necessary research, and it’s the reason why it has not been easy to cure.”
The bike ride in Southampton is the second of three rides scheduled for the Bite Back For A Cure campaign. A ride is scheduled for Syracuse on Saturday, September 14, and the first ride was last weekend at Martha’s Vineyard. More tour dates could be added, Donnally said.
“It was really good,” he said of the Martha’s Vineyard ride. “We got a good turnout. I made a lot of friendships. It was a great kickoff event, and I’m really happy with the way it went.”
For more information on the ride, go to tbdalliance.org.