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In This Place

New Lyme Disease Health and Wellness Center Opens in Mashpee

Cape Cod has the unfortunate distinction of having one of the highest rates of Lyme disease in the United States. In response to the prevalence of the disease on the Cape, a Mashpee resident has opened up a Lyme disease wellness center, one of the first of its kind in the nation. He wants there to be a place where people who suffer with long-lasting symptoms of Lyme disease – often called chronic Lyme  can go to get the help they need.

It’s called the Entire Health and Wellness Center, and it sits just off Route 28 North in Mashpee, beyond a parking lot decked with hundreds upon hundreds of green Lyme awareness bows. It’s still under construction, but by the time it opens fully in September, the center will have a little bit of everything. It’ll have a resident doctor, a chiropractor, and an acupuncturist. There will be a massage therapist, a nutritionist, and a psychologist  even yoga classes. Ron Gangemi is the man behind all of this. Sitting in the front lobby of the center, he explains that despite the construction, they’re already open to provide a few basic services.

“We’re still doing talks and we’re manning phone calls. If somebody wants to meet with us we’ll be coming over to meet with them or we’ll go to their house and meet with them, wherever they want. If they’ve got any kind of issues, we’re here.”

Gangemi ran the group Lyme Awareness of Cape Cod, or LACC, out of his basement for six years. But last year, when he came across a CDC report that estimated 300,000 people in the US are diagnosed with Lyme each year, he knew it was time to expand LACC and open up a center. He wants to provide something special, something comprehensive, for those suffering with Lyme disease. Because, Gangemi says, many people are exhausted by limited treatment options and they struggle to find doctors and therapies that can help them.

“We’re teaching them how to live with it, instead of living for it, so we’re trying to teach them the whole picture, not just antibiotics. It’s a way of living and changing your diet, the way you think, and you’re never going to feel 100%, a lot of people won’t, so how to live with the illness and still enjoy your life and be positive.”

At the front desk of the center, Vicky Welch has been taking calls from people seeking information and advice about Lyme. For Welch, the work is personal. She’s been volunteering with LACC since she herself recovered from chronic Lyme.

Welch is exited about the center’s impending opening. She said, “It’s also a great resource for people because we do have a lot of people calling us saying ‘Where do I go, where do I get treated’ and if we have a little bit of something here, then they can talk to different people and different practitioners and different doctors and kind of come up with a plan that suits them.”

LACC gets all its money from grants, donations, and fundraising events, such as the June 21st second annual Walk for Lyme by the Cape Cod Canal. On that sunny Saturday, Tami Smith was standing by the event tent, offering information to whomever walked by. Smith is the Lyme center’s nutritionist.

“I met Ron, the founder of LACC, in one of my fitness classes,” explained Smith, “and now I’m trying to help on the committee, and as you know, there’s the new center that is open in Mashpee, the Entire Health and Wellness, and so I thought – I’m also a nutritionist so I thought I could help out by giving some support and guidance for people with Lyme to try to help them clear up their diet to help clear up inflammation and support them.”

In addition to having a variety of specialists on hand, the center also will provide counseling services. Because Gangemi says he knows first-hand that those who suffer from chronic Lyme often are told that it’s all in their heads, and finding support is difficult.

“The counseling and support which we’ve been doing – we’ve actually been going to families and talking to the spouses and the children, because with this illness one day you could be bedridden for three weeks, and the next for a day or so you’re felling great and you look great but you can’t get out of bed, a lot of times you can’t figure out how to get home, you can’t drive home, and it’s very hard to understand. My wife was sick for fourteen years and I believed, because of what the doctors told me, that she was just mentally ill and depressed. Fourteen years later I find out it’s Lyme disease.

One of Gangemi’s disappointments is that the center won’t be able to take insurance. But he says LACC will continue to fundraise to ensure that its services are available for all who need them.

“Every penny we bring in we put back out to our patients for Lyme. We’re all volunteers and we want to make sure our patients, not just people with money, we want everyone to be able to come in here and at least make it affordable. That’s probably our biggest task right now.”

Entire Health and Wellness will be one of the first Lyme centers in the country, and Gangemi says people are paying attention. Lyme awareness groups in other places are reaching out, telling him they hope to follow his example. So while Cape Cod is one of the epicenters of Lyme disease, perhaps it also can be an epicenter of treatment.

For more information about Entire Health and Wellness you can go to Lyme Awareness of Cape Cod’s website, www.lymeticks.org.