July 15 began as a difficult day for Andrew Hawke, a 23-year-old Boothbay Harbor lobsterman. He woke up around 6:30 a.m. and complained about being “extremely tired.” He sat beside his bed and shortly afterwards went unconscious and collapsed. His girlfriend called 9-1-1 and, after a brief observation, paramedics determined something “funky” was going on in his heart. Paramedics transported him to Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick so he’d be close to Maine Medical Center in Portland, according to Hawke’s mother, Stephanie Hawke.
At the hospital, doctors believed the mysterious illness should be attributed to Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness. According to the Center for Disease Control, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S. and is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and, rarely, Borrelia mayoni. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart and nervous system.
But Hawke didn’t know he had Lyme disease, so he had no warning or identified any potential symptoms prior to being treated in the hospital. His battle with Lyme disease isn’t his family’s first encounter with the illness. His mother contracted it in 2017. Her battle includes being tired and having joint pain. She is also friends with Paula Jackson Jones, the founder of Mid Coast Lyme. Jones struggled with Lyme disease for years prior to her diagnosis. She now advocates on behalf of those afflicted with Lyme disease. Stephanie Hawke met her in 2015 during a legislative hearing on Lyme disease. Hawke, a former two-term state legislator, was in her first term. She met Jones and constituents who attended the hearing.
After Andrew Hawke’s Lyme disease diagnosis, his mother told Jones about a doctor treating her son for Lyme disease without knowing he was infected.
“She told me the doctor must have been a younger physician because they are looking out for cases like this,” Stephanie Hawke said. “It turns out Andrew had (Lyme) carditis which is a rare and potentially fatal form of Lyme disease.”
Lyme carditis occurs when bacteria enters the tissues of the heart. This can interfere with the normal movement of electrical signals from the heart’s upper to lower chambers, a process that coordinates the beating of the heart. The result is something physicians call “heart block,” which can vary in degree and change rapidly. According to the Center for Disease Control, it occurs in approximately 1% of reported male Lyme disease cases.
While Andrew Hawke didn’t know he contracted Lyme carditis, the signs became apparent a few days prior to his hospitalization. On July 13, he helped put up a tent at Boothbay Railway Village. He pounded stakes into the driveway and complained of being “tired and out of breath.” It was one of several hot and humid July days when breathing was difficult regardless of age or physical condition. “He told me it was really hard pounding in the stakes and was out of breath and tired. I told him it was probably due to the humid weather which makes it hard to breathe for everybody,” Stephanie Hawke said.
But Andrew Hawke’s breathing problem continued into the next day. On July 14, he picked up his girlfriend near Gleason Fine Art on Townsend Avenue in Boothbay Harbor. The couple planned on walking to Ports of Italy for dinner, but Hawke had to stop and rest due to a shortness of breath. According to his mother, doctors believed Andrew Hawke contracted Lyme carditis four weeks ago after being bitten by a tick. “Other than the shortness of breath and being tired there were no other symptoms. Typically with Lyme, there is a rash which looks like a bull’s eye, but with Andrew there wasn’t one,” she said. “And if he wasn’t rushed to the hospital, he probably would’ve died.” Stephanie Hawke remembers hearing about a 17-year-old Massachusetts male who died of Lyme carditis recently while mowing his lawn.
Andrew Hawke is on track for a full recovery. Doctors prescribed an antibiotic intravenous therapy which is treating the stage 3 blockage in his heart. On Aug. 13, doctors planned to remove the midline IV unit from his arm. “I’m feeling pretty good now. Doctors believe they caught it early enough so I won’t have any lingering effects and won’t need more medications.” While he is on antibiotics, doctors advised him not to work due to potential strain on the midline IV in his arm, but Andrew Hawke plans on returning to lobstering on Aug. 17.