The first-of-its kind tick-borne illness center has opened its doors to its first patients in Woodruff.
The Tick-Borne Illness Center of Excellence aims to effectively diagnose and treat people recovering from tick-borne illnesses. It is the first tick-borne illness research and treatment center in the Midwest.
“The first patient was a huge milestone for not only the Northwoods community, but the entire Midwest region. We are proud to be a part of such an important project that has the potential to reach thousands,” said Elizabeth Gering, Howard Young Foundation donor relations and communications. “In one short year, we were able to secure space, form an advisory board, hire staff and see the first patient. We are confident that our partner, Open Medicine Institute, will not only bring cutting-edge research and treatment methods to the Center, but compassionate care that many patients suffering from tick-borne illness have been waiting for.”
Led by the Open Medicine Institute (OMI), the Center features a waiting area, main reception, lab as well as exam, infusion and consultation rooms. With cutting-edge diagnosis equipment and advanced research methods, the Center is housed at Howard Young Medical Center on the main level of the Dr. Kate Clinic. Staff will work collaboratively with patients along with referring and regional specialists to best identify and treat their specific tick-borne illnesses.
“We know this has been a long awaited need, so we are already seeing patients as we get settled in,” clinic program director Connie Campbell said. “It’s wonderful to be on the clinical and research path for the first center of its kind in the Midwest. To get in on the ground level and help the community.”
The Tick-Borne Illness Center of Excellence has been a collaboration between the Howard Young Foundation and OMI as well as a widespread community support effort that included fundraising, awareness and blood samples to begin building a databank that will work towards finding better diagnosis and more impactful treatments for tick-borne illnesses.
“To date, we have raised $2.25 million of our three-year, $3.5 million campaign goal,” Gering said. “We have been so inspired by the generosity of the community and their strong support for the Center. Our donors are the ones that have made this critically needed center possible right here in our community.”
Staff thus far includes Campbell, office manager Kathy McCaughn, and at the helm of patient care is Dr. Andy Kogelnik, director. Kogelnik is a Stanford-trained physician in infectious disease, internationally recognized and dedicated for more than 20 years to work that has advanced many medical needs — including Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. A researcher is also expected to be hired in the coming months.
“This is such a tremendous opportunity. So many patients are in need, and haven’t had a place to go,” Kogelnik said. “It’s really rewarding to see these people come through the door and see the sense of relief and hope in their faces. That’s what we are here to do … I was happy to be on hand for the first patients.”
Sept. 24 was the first day patients were seen.
“In the first week, we saw quite a few patients from our wait list as well as walk-ins, and we saw our first tick that was brought in for tick testing,” Campbell said at her new office. People are encouraged to bring in the tick that bit them, or any tick that they find in the Northwoods. OMI is also interested in learning more about the tick population to get a better understanding of the disease they carry.
“Being in on this ground level, being a part of the opportunity to bring this office of excellence is incredible,” McCaughn said. “It fits here so well, and it’s really exciting.”
‘Power of the community’
There are 150 patients from all over the Midwest on the waiting list for the Tick-Borne Illness Center of Excellence, Campbell and McCaughn indicated. Those coming in for care can expect to fill out a questionnaire form at home prior to their appointment. When they arrive at the Center they will then be greeted by soft, warm colors and local artwork in the reception area, before having a private, more in-depth consultation with Dr. Kogelnik where family and other supporters are welcome to attend.
“Dr. Kogelnik has a great understanding of complex issues as he is one of the leading experts in the field.” Campbell said. “He’s very approachable and goes deeper with questions when patients are here in the office.”
An assessment and treatment plan are then established.
“I’ve been really blown away by the community support and effort,” Kogelnik said. “It speaks to the power of the community and the need here.”
Further, the Tick-Borne Illness Center of Excellence is collecting blood samples from research participants in the community to build a research databank that will work towards finding better diagnosis and treatment for tick-borne illnesses. A blood drive at the recent Dragon Boat Festival in Minocqua saw 166 people give blood towards that cause, Campbell said.
“The incidence is high in the Northwoods,” Campbell said of the presence of tick-borne illness transmissions. “Some people can have symptoms for the rest of their lives and it becomes a part of their daily life. Many tell us they have been living without relief for a long time.”
The aspect Campbell and McCaughn most look forward to at the Tick-Borne Illness Center of Excellence is bringing hope to struggling patients.
“The hope for the patients — whether it’s a plan or a cure — is seeing if we can help them and contributing to and learning from the research that is behind it, it’s is exciting,” Campbell said. “A cure, we can be the ones to find that.”
“The blend of clinical treatment and research intrigued my interest,” Campbell continued. “I am looking forward to developing the program, seeing patients and to have the opportunity to help educate the community on tick-borne illnesses and the related research.”
“I am looking forward to the opportunity to be on the ground level with an organization that is going to provide opportunities for people suffering from illnesses from the tick bites,” she said.
A private, soft opening is set for Oct. 24. A grand opening for the public is expected in March.
The Center’s advisory board members include world-renowned tick-borne illness specialists including Dr. Brian Fallon from Columbia University and Dr. Neil Spector from Duke University.
Insurance is not processed at the Center, services are offered as “fee for service,” though patients can submit their invoice for their personal coverage options. The goal is to have a scholarship or funding program in the future for patients in need, noted organizers. Kogelnik said area community groups are being reached out to in order to help low income people and families obtain care.
“We really want to build the community around that … and build a patient fund where patients can apply on a need-basis, first-come, first-served,” he said. “We don’t want that to be a barrier to treatment.”
Kogelnik also looks forward to educating area providers as well as citizens about the many impacts of tick-borne illnesses.
To find out more, or to donate to the campaign, call 715-439-4005 or visit howardyoungfoundation.org.