"I had two surgeries but kept having unbearable symptoms," she said. "I told Butch (her husband, Barry) to cut the firewood shorter, I couldn't handle bigger pieces. It affected my balance — we used to be on the trail all the time and I can't bike anymore."
At first it was thought that she had multiple sclerosis. Her first three tests for Lyme disease were negative. One Sunday Sechler was at the Zion Lutheran Church in Meyersdale and happened to be sitting with Sandra Riggio, Meyersdale, who told her she probably had Lyme disease.
In June 1988 Sandra and Peter Riggio were living in Long Island, N.Y. They both contracted Lyme disease.
"I never tested positive for Lyme, but one of my tests came close to positive," Riggio said. "I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia."
Sechler, 59, was undiagnosed for 18 months. Finally, she got a diagnosis of Lyme disease. She was a hairstylist for 39 years and has had to retire. She had to give up a lot of volunteer work. The Sechlers have 1,200 Christmas trees. They used to sell to the general public, but now only sell to friends. They are looking for a one-story house because it is becoming too difficult for her to climb stairs.
"It is a jagging pain on top of pain and stiffness," she said. "Mine is mainly my hips and jaws, but at times I have pain everywhere."
A support group is being started in Meyersdale for people with Lyme disease and those who want more information about it. The first meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. March 27 in the lower level of the Masonic Temple, Beachley Street, Meyersdale.
Pennsylvania has one of the highest Lyme disease rates in the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 90 percent of all cases are diagnosed in nine states, including Pennsylvania. The Lyme Disease Foundation believes the count is 15 times higher than the roughly 16,000 cases reported annually.
Lyme disease is caused by the corkscrew-shaped bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. It was first linked to tick bites in Lyme, Conn., in the mid-1970s. There is no perfect test. Only about half of patients remember a bite or bulls-eye rash that is associated with Lyme. Researchers in Canada believe spiders and other insects also carry Lyme disease.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2001 found that Lyme disease can be prevented in patients treated with antibiotics soon after the bite occurs. National guidelines limit antibiotic treatment for patients with chronic Lyme disease, but some doctors advocate long-term antibiotic treatment. People with chronic Lyme disease may not donate blood or organs.
Sechler travels to a physician in Hermitage, Mercer County, whom she declined to identify. Others go to Hamburg, Berks County, or Washington, D.C., for treatment.
"My doctor told me I will be cured, but it may take months or years," she said. "My attitude, determination, optimism and constant prayer to God for strength, and the love and support of my husband, family and friends has helped me come full circle with Lyme."