Yesterday, 27-year-old Terry Joe Sedlacek walked into an Illinois church and fired four gunshots at Rev. Fred Winters, killing him. He then attempted to stab himself in the throat as congregants restrained him.
This isn't the first time Sedlacek has made news, however. Just last August, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Sedlacek's battle with Lyme disease, a tick-borne ailment that had once put him in a coma. While Lyme affects different people different ways, Sedlacek's brain took the brunt of his infection. He wasn't himself, he couldn't speak properly, and his brain developed lesions. It took four years for doctors to find the cause of his complaints. Family members say Sedlacek became mentally ill as a result of the blacklegged tick bite.
In 1978, I suffered the first of a series of mysterious symptoms that changed the course of my life in many ways. After eight years of odd ailments and trips to various specialists, I was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease. Thirty years later, there's still no consensus among my doctors regarding which issues are Lyme-related and which aren't, and how to treat them. And, it seems, there's no consensus within the medical community about when to test for Lyme, and when it's unwarranted. Hearing Sedlacek's story, I'm grateful that my problems have been mostly musculo-skeletal, rather than neurological.
Sedlacek's attorney has already started building a Lyme disease defense. He blames his client's erratic behavior and mental illness on the Lyme infection. Dr. Eugene Shapiro, a Yale University Lyme expert, doesn't believe the disease could drive someone to such violence. The stage is set for a courtroom debate - did a tick bite lead Mr. Sedlacek to commit such a violent act? And if it did, how could this change the verdict in the case?
I'll admit, hearing about his Lyme disease experience gave me pause. I wonder how Sedlacek's life would be different had he not been bitten by that tiny tick ten years ago. And I wish some doctor he'd met along the way had thought to do a Lyme test, and maybe even give him a course of antibiotics, just in case. But I don't know if I can go so far as to relieve him of guilt for such a violent act, even knowing his medical history. What do you think?