This story, which highlights one patient’s diagnosis with and treatment for chronic Lyme disease, fails to abide by several important journalistic standards:
1. The story did not reveal the patient’s conflict of interest; she is a board member of a group that raises money for and advocates experimental treatments for Lyme disease. The story did not indicate that, as her professional biography reports, she is a paid motivational speaker who has appeared before, among others, two pharmaceutical companies and several health groups.
2. The story left out the significant information about her prior illnesses, and failed to mention that while she was battling the disease she reportedly was able to hold a variety of corporate management positions and work as a model and TV reporter. This information, while also uncorroborated, is included in her ABC bio and in an interview she gave with a Canadian Lyme group’s newsletter.
3. The story shows no evidence that the reporters attempted to verify the facts of her case, get independent commentary on her diagnosis and treatment, explain the risks and benefits of the treatment or even identify the physician who provided it.
4. The story does not put this one extraordinary example into context of the disease generally. There is indeed significant controversy, and much unsettled science, about Lyme disease. A well-reported story about the difficulties in diagnosing, treating and understanding the potential long-term consequences of the disease would provide an excellent public service. Unfortunately, this story was sensationalized, unreferenced, biased and incomplete.
The story does not provide costs for either the unusual antibiotic/oxygen treatment or conventional treatment for advanced Lyme disease.
The story does not provide any data about the treatment, aside from the fact that it appears to have preceded some level of remission in this one case.
The story does not report the potential harms of arterial antibiotics or hyperbaric oxygen exposure.
The story provides no evidence regarding the efficacy or risks of this treatment. No literature or clinical observations are cited.
The story dwells on a single patient with a very serious case of disease. This has the effect of exaggerating the severity and difficulties of treating Lyme disease.
The story implies the treatment has cured the patient, while the facts presented suggest only remission of some symptoms following years of many different treatments. This may exaggerate the effectiveness of the treatment.
The story reports that only 30 percent of those who contract Lyme disease know they have it, and implies that the other 70 percent are in great danger of the kind of symptoms this patient faces. Very few Lyme patients have symptoms as severe as those described here.
The patient alleges that major medical facilities do not recognize or know how to treat chronic Lyme, generating potentially unnecessary suspicion of conventional treatment.
The story is built around a single patient’s experience. No independent medical sources are asked to comment on the patient’s case or treatment.
The reporters failed to explore some other sources, cited below, that report the patient was born with a serious heart condition, had multiple heart surgeries as a child, and was co-diagnosed with spinal meningitis. These facts may explain some of the patient’s symptoms. But there is no evidence that the reporters attempted to verify the patient’s assertions with independent sources.
The physician reporter provides information only on conventional prevention and treatment, not on advanced, chronic cases.
The story does not detail how advanced Lyme disease is normally treated.
The story does not indicate where and how the arterial antibiotic/hyperbaric oxygen procedure is available. It does not name the doctor who did it, or say what medical specialty he or she was trained in. The story says the procedure is "not FDA approved," but this is misleading. The FDA does not approve medical procedures.
The story makes clear that the antibiotic/oxygen treatment is experimental and very rare.
The patient, a board member for Turn the Corner, a Lyme disease fundraising and advocacy group that supports experimental approaches to the condition, was featured on NBC the same week she was featured on ABC, as part of a publicity campaign. The network failed to identify the patient as a board member of the group.