Meet Lyme Research Alliance’s Person of the Month:
Investigative Reporter MARY BETH PFEIFFER
Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her series about Lyme and tick-borne diseases, “No Small Thing,” the most comprehensive treatment of the subject ever undertaken by a newspaper, Mary Beth says she hadn’t realized that Lyme disease was “such a controversial can of worms.”
Shortly after Poughkeepsie Journal (NY) investigative reporter Mary Beth Pfeiffer returned from vacation this month, she spent more than three hours downloading emails from Lyme sufferers who had written in support of her nomination by her newspaper for a Pulitzer Prize.
“It was so gratifying for me to realize how many people were helped by my work,” Pfeiffer said after reading the countless emails of support from around the nation.
While it may have surprised Pfeiffer, for months Lyme experts have buzzed about the excellence of her ongoing series of articles about Lyme disease called “No Small Thing.” In her eight long and meticulously reported articles, Pfeiffer delves into such topics as why it’s so difficult for Lyme sufferers to get diagnosed and treated, how and why testing for Lyme is so problematic, the imprecise way Lyme cases are counted, and why treatment guidelines for Lyme disease are so flawed.
In recognition of her outstanding reporting, Lyme Research Alliance (LRA) has named Pfeiffer as its first “Person of the Month” for 2013. “Mary Beth's work has served not only to validate what so many Lyme sufferers have experienced”, said Peter Wild, LRA’s executive director, “but the quality of her reporting has contributed a credible body of work toward what must be the eventual re-examination of how Lyme disease is treated by health professionals and regulated by lawmakers.”
An award-winning investigative journalist for more than 20 years, Pfeiffer’s penchant for investigative reporting has led to articles that consistently champion the disenfranchised. Her examination of the criminalization of mentally ill Americans by law enforcement and government bureaucracies won her numerous state and national awards from 2001-2006. Before launching her Lyme series last year, she had dedicated much of her time to reporting on the soaring use of Tasers by New York State police agencies.
When Pfeiffer decided to report on Lyme disease, she didn’t think it would amount to more than “a typical” trend story, she said. “We knew we had a problem in this area (New York State’s Dutchess County), but we were surprised where we stood in terms of national rankings. We have the nation’s second highest rates of Lyme disease.”
As she delved deeper into the subject, Pfeiffer, who lives in rural Ulster County, quickly discovered that Lyme disease was “a much bigger story than I anticipated. We didn’t know this topic was such a controversial can of worms.”
“Untold numbers of people are not diagnosed or are misdiagnosed and therefore suffer needlessly,” she said. “I’d love to see a better test for Lyme and I would like to see the Centers for Disease Control acknowledge flaws in the two tier test and to revisit the issue of the IDSA guidelines in light of emerging research.”
Pfeiffer plans to continue her Lyme reporting throughout 2013, whether or not she wins any awards. She said she was flattered by LRA naming her its Person of the Month and praised the organization for “all the great work it is doing.”
As for the Pulitzer Prize, which will be announced in April, she said, “it’s every reporter’s ambition” to win it. However Pfeiffer insists she would be “equally pleased” to receive the honor because it would amplify attention to Lyme disease and serve a public good.”
To read the entire "No Small Thing" series go to www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/lyme.