Dog trainer vows to fight back after tick-borne diseases railroad health

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MERCER COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) -- If you have spent any time in the woods hiking or camping, you know it's relatively common to find a tick on you.

But for one Kentucky man, he says a tick bite has not only turned his life upside down, but is also destroying his health. Now the community is rallying around him so he can get the medical help he needs to survive.

Nick Risden has a gift. He has a local and national reputation for training dogs for police, competition and obedience. Witnessing him train one of his dogs is like watching a man at one with an animal. They move together like two professional dancers.

Risden loves working with German Shepherds.

"When I was 19, I got one and it changed everything," he said. "I had not seen that kind of loyalty... to me, that means everything."

Business was going so well, Risden bought a farm in Mercer County, Ky. and began building a training and boarding facility called "K9 Motivation."

But in May, his health crashed. He spent two weeks in ICU at a Lexington Hospital. His body was under attack from several tick-borne diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Powasson Virus and Lyme Disease -- all at the same time.

"My eyesight has deteriorated. Muscle.. keep losing weight. The muscle knots on me, the tremors, the seizures, everything has just got worse," Risden explained.

Risden believes he's exhausted all the medical help he can get in Kentucky, and is now turning to an infectious disease doctor in Washington, D.C. who specializes in tick-borne diseases.

"Oh, it's not rare at all," Dr. Joseph Jemsek said when asked if having numerous tick-borne illnesses is unusual. "In fact, the day Nick was here this week, we had people from 14 different states and a couple of countries. So people come from all over because they're desperate for care, in a health care system that doesn't recognize this devastating illness. It's very tragic, quite honestly."

"I have a lot of weird arm tremors and leg stuff, and I get vertigo when I go from down to up, and I'm like, whew, which makes it difficult with the healing, and the spinning and the turning..." Risden explained.

He can't work, much less take care of his dogs. His insurance won't cover the cost of seeing Dr. Jemsek in Washington, which will be at least $43,000 for 7-9 months of IV antibiotics that will be given through a PIC line in his chest.

"It can be deadly. I'll tell you what the most common cause of death in this illness is suicide because people lose hope, they lose their soul. They lose their identity. Nick is one of those people, as are many of our patients, who have an innate sense of survival, and will do whatever it takes," Jemsek said.

"It's heartbreaking. This is a very young person who has so much potential and so much to give to the community," said Rebecca Kendall Patterson.

Patterson, a longtime friend, is one of many organizing fundraisers for Risden's medical care.

"It prevents him from doing his work," she said. "It prevents him from taking care of his own animals, and helping others in the community."

"The local communities been amazing. La Fonda's Mexican restaurant in Harrodsburg donated a portion of their food sales the other day to my medicine. I have never seen people step up, and I'm very proud to be a Kentuckian because of it," Risden said.

State Representative Kim King, from Risden's district, stepped in early on to help open some doors for medical care.

"I was able to get him in contact with the Anthem Medicaid Ombudsman. And able to just make some contacts, do some networking, open some doors, get folks to answer his phone calls," Rep. King said.

Risden is fighting to return to the days he was training dozens of dogs.

"I want to get healthy, so I can get back to work. I love to work... I love to work," he said. "I'm not giving up. I'm not gonna say I accept this... If it doesn't work, find something that works."

Risden's doctor also says his prognosis is good.

There are several ways the public can help Risden. His friends have a Youcaring page set up, a Facebook silent auction and plans for a 5k and a benefit dinner.

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