Murrysville cycling group helps Monroeville man cope with Lyme disease
A decade ago, Greg Shogan of Monroeville went through a series of perplexing ailments.
First, he got cat scratch disease, which lingered for a couple months before going away.
“Shortly after that, my whole face went numb, and I saw everyone I could see and probably had about 20 brain scans,” Shogan said.
Doctors were unable to diagnose what was wrong. Shogan, 35, did not know it at the time, but cat scratch disease is caused by the Bartonella bacteria, which can be transmitted by ticks.
“Finally, a family friend at UPMC was listening to my symptoms and said it sounded a lot like Lyme disease,” he said.
Eventually he was diagnosed with Lyme disease but while early detection can generally result in effective treatment, Shogan had gone years without meaningful medical intervention.
“In 2015, I had a really bad case of dizziness that lasted for years,” he said. “In 2017, I developed neuropathy all over my body, and eventually found a neurologist in Connecticut who diagnosed me with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. My nerve fibers are being damaged.”
Today, Shogan receives weekly infusions of intravenous immunoglobulin, or IVIG, a very costly medication, to combat the effects of Lyme disease.
“It sucks; it takes all day long,” he said.
This year, the Biomedical Central scientific journal “Parasites & Vectors” published a study that tracked tick trends in Pennsylvania over the past 117 years. The survey found that the state has had the highest number of Lyme disease cases reported since 2000 in the United States.
Ride to cope
In seeking ways to cope with the effects of the disease, Shogan spoke in early 2018 with Tom LaBuff, his former track coach at Gateway High School.
“Tom said he’d just done a really great ride with this group, Cyclists of Murrysville,” Shogan said. “I saw him post about it on Facebook, and one day, I just started showing up.”
An athlete in his youth, Shogan said his body responded to the increased physical activity.
“At first, I’d say things seemed to get worse,” he said. “But my doctor said I was young and could exercise as much as I wanted. We meet every Tuesday to ride, and it’s really been an inspiration.
“I still have bad days, but I bet I’ve improved by about 50%.”
Larry Nicolette of Murrysville started the informal cycling group.
“I used to ride with a group out of Highland Park that met on Tuesdays,” Nicolette said. “About eight years back, winter was breaking early and I was looking to get into shape, so I invited a few of those folks out our way to do a ride. And it’s been growing since.”
Nicolette originally called it the “Tour de Taco,” since members would start and finish at the former Rivertowne tap room on Old William Penn Highway, on its “Taco Tuesday” nights.
He said he’s seen noticeable improvement in not just Shogan, but most members of the group.
“Everyone is generally healthier,” he said.
A 2015 study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health showed that a group of patients who exhibited persistent symptoms of Lyme disease reported an improvement in the number of days they felt healthy and full of energy after starting a regular exercise routine.
Shogan said exercise has helped him, physically and emotionally.
“They’ve been really great with motivation,” he said. “My doctor said that for what I have, he’s surprised at what I’m doing and mentions it to other young people who are suffering with Lyme.”
Shogan works in project controls for Westinghouse and credited his bosses for being flexible when it comes to his schedule.
“There are days when I have a flare, and I have to go,” he said. “With a lot of jobs, you do that for a couple years and they’re going to let you go.”
Shogan said he hopes others can benefit from the regimen that has been working for him.
“People need to know,” he said. “A lot of people on IVIG just sit around and don’t do anything. I go out on these rides. I still drink beer. Last year, I did two triathlons.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .