melissa-biopicMelissa Bell is a wife, mother of three children and an attorney at law with a background in finance. Melissa’s family has been profoundly impacted by Lyme Disease, including multiple impacted family members as well as their dog. In particular, one child was abruptly transformed from thriving, athletic and carefree, to suffering from excruciating pain, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction. Melissa suddenly had a child who was too sick to attend school, play with friends or even walk many days. It was only due to the kindness of others brave enough to share their story about Lyme in Florida and a doctor who took the time to answer a desperate email sent from the children’s hospital that her child finally received an accurate diagnosis. It took nearly a year.

While very sympathetic to the plight that adults with Lyme face, what truly fuels her passion for advocacy are the children who silently suffer from the ravaging, debilitating symptoms of Lyme from the confines of their home, without answers or hope. In an effort to raise awareness throughout Florida, Melissa founded Florida Lyme Disease Association (FLDA) in 2013. In 2014, FLDA merged with Northeast Florida Lyme Association, thus expanding the talent and reach of the organization. Melissa researches extensively, runs the FLDA Facebook page, moderates support groups, helps educate doctors, and drafts resource documents in an effort to guide others in the complex world of Lyme.

Through her advocacy, Melissa observed that while there are a tremendous number of people suffering from Lyme Disease and related co-infections, the collective voice of the Lyme community has been relatively limited, as evidenced by poor general awareness about the complexities of Lyme and a stark lack of research funding. After attending the 2013 Partners Against Lyme conference sponsored by the National Capital Lyme Association and attended by Lyme group leaders and advocates from across the United States and Canada, she was inspired by the possibilities that collaboration could bring.

The following year, in the wake of the tremendous success of the ALS Challenge, Melissa observed that numerous individuals and groups were starting a variety of competing Lyme Disease challenges. She saw the opportunity to pull people in the Lyme world together to work as one community. Melissa formed a Lyme Disease Challenge Facebook planning group that quickly grew to over 3,000 members. The group provided a platform for members of the Lyme community to brainstorm on an effective, grassroots, Lyme Disease awareness campaign. While Melissa has worked hard on the campaign, she recognizes it has been the Lyme community coming together with amazing ideas, experiences and talents to make the Lyme Disease Challenge a reality. Working together, our collective voice will be loud, strong and shall not be ignored.