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Lyme disease sufferers rally for embattled doc
by Michael Lasalandra

Friday, November 10, 2000

Hundreds of Lyme disease patients, including a large contingent from Massachusetts, rallied in New York yesterday in support of a doctor who faces the loss of his license for treating the disease the way they believe it should be treated.

Dr. Joseph Burrascano of Long Island is facing disciplinary action by the New York Office of Professional Medical Conduct on negligence charges for overmedicating patients.

But his patients say he has saved their lives by treating them aggressively with antibiotics for extended periods.

"I couldn't walk or talk,'' said Sharon Wilner of Texas, who helped organize the rally in New York City at the office of the medical board. "Thank God, I found Dr. Burrascano.''

Wilner said she found no relief from the illness through conventional treatment - four weeks of antibiotics.

Burrascano puts patients on antibiotics for longer periods - three years in Wilner's case.

"Today, I am antibiotic-free and am doing very well,'' she said. "It's a miracle.''

The Burrascano case highlights a long-simmering controversy over the treatment of Lyme disease.

Most doctors take their cue from Dr. Allan Steere of New England Medical Center, who is credited with the discovery of Lyme disease in 1978. He insists the illness can be cured with just four weeks of antibiotic therapy and says the illness is both overdiagnosed and overtreated.

As a result, most insurance companies will pay for only that length of treatment.

But patients with persistent cases say they need more. And a minority of doctors, including Burrascano, agree with them.

Members of one patients' group, the Lyme Alliance, protested at the National Institutes of Health last year when Steere gave a prestigious talk.

They said his guidelines are "obsolete, biologically unfounded and ethically suspect.''

Members of Lyme patients groups rallied yesterday for Burrascano.

"He is one of the pioneers in treating advanced and persistent cases of Lyme disease,'' said John Coughlin of Mashpee, head of the Massachusetts Lyme Disease Coalition, which sent a large contingent to the rally.

"He's courageous enough to treat serious cases, and we're going to go down there in support of him,'' he said.

Another group, Voices of Lyme, says Burrascano is one of more than a dozen doctors in the Northeast, and the third in New York, to be targeted for investigation in connection with his treatment regimen.

"If he goes down, doctors like him will never touch another Lyme patient,'' Wilner said.

Talk back to Michael Lasalandra