A Lyme disease diagnosis gone wrong

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For patients who have no answers after bouncing from doctor to doctor, physicians who diagnose and treat chronic Lyme disease can become heroes.

Phillip Moore initially felt that way about Dr. Joseph Jemsek, who in 2004 diagnosed Moore with Lyme in North Carolina. “He made you feel like he was the only person on the planet that was going to make you better and save you,” Moore said.

But Moore now says he feels duped. After enduring intravenous antibiotic treatments that made him so sick he had to take a three-month leave from his job, Moore learned from a different doctor that his tests and clinical history showed he didn’t have Lyme disease. This year, Moore was told he had a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and that the cancer had spread.


“In my heart, I know it delayed my opportunity for treatment,” the 45-year-old father said of his Lyme diagnosis.

Moore testified against Jemsek at a hearing held by the North Carolina Medical Board, which disciplined the doctor for “unprofessional conduct.”

The board found that in treating Moore and nine other patients, Jemsek diagnosed Lyme based on “non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, achiness and decreased concentration,” and “with scant or no supporting historical, physical, serological or other laboratory evidence.”

In 2006, the board suspended Jemsek’s license for a year but offered to put that suspension on hold if Jemsek met certain conditions.

Two attorneys for Jemsek said in a statement that their client settled a lawsuit filed by Moore without admitting liability. That Jemsek is able to treat patients despite “vicious attacks,” said attorneys Jacques Simon and Susan Green, is “a story of triumph for the chronically ill.”

Jemsek remains prominent in the Lyme world, and in January he opened an office in Washington, D.C., where he treats Lyme.


— Patricia Callahan