How trip to 'Lyme hospital' in Germany helped save St. Charles family

  • Sarah and Kelly Nitkey celebrating Sarah's birthday as she continues to recover from her Lyme-related illnesses

    Sarah and Kelly Nitkey celebrating Sarah's birthday as she continues to recover from her Lyme-related illnesses Courtesy of Nitkey family

Posted3/17/2023 6:00 AM

More than three years ago, the overriding theme of the unusual and cruel story of Lyme disease affliction for the Nitkey family of St. Charles was "desperation."

Kelly Nitkey was desperate to get help for her two daughters and granddaughter, all of whom were suffering for years from undiagnosed cases of the disease.


Her research led to Heidelberg-trained oncologist Dr. Friedrich Douwes and his integrative medicine-based Klinik St. Georg in Bad Aibling, Germany, often referred to as a Lyme hospital.

And time was critical. Kelly and her husband John were convinced their daughter Sarah, already bound to a wheelchair and getting worse by the day, was not going to live without seeking Klinik's alternative approaches for Lyme disease.

Since I last checked in with the family in late 2019, the news has become clearer and brighter for 25-year-old Sarah, 29-year-old Hannah and 10-year-old Bella. The trip to Germany more than a year ago paid off and the family wants to continue focusing on Lyme disease and helping others unable to deal with the financial burden of fighting it off.

"Sarah has been healed of Lyme disease; the trip to Germany saved her life," Kelly said. "But there is still a lot of healing to take place."

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Sarah was hit hardest of the girls, as nearly every organ in her body, including an infection in the brain, was affected by the disease. It was a long haul for Sarah, who first began feeling ill as a middle school student in 2010.

Sarah Nitkey getting treatment at the Lyme disease clinic in Germany in 2021.
Sarah Nitkey getting treatment at the Lyme disease clinic in Germany in 2021. - Courtesy of Nitkey family

"I knew a couple of weeks after I came home from Germany that my heart had stabilized and that I could digest food again, and that was huge," Sarah said.

Among other issues, Sarah suffered from gastroparesis, or paralyzed digestive muscles, and was down to 89 pounds.

"Prior to flying there for treatment, I knew I was dying," Sarah added. "I gained my weight back slowly, but surely."


Kelly watched her daughter's dramatic improvements unfolding late last year.

"As of last November, her brain is healed," Kelly said. "As of two months ago, she has been able to take college classes, and that has been like a miracle. Her memory is fully intact; this after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia at age 17."

In the meantime, Hannah and her daughter Bella live in Atlanta and are meeting with a holistic medicine expert there to determine the next steps because some of their Lyme disease symptoms continue to flare.

Kelly Nitkey's other daughter Hannah Roberts, right, and Hannah's daughter Bella have also suffered from Lyme disease.
Kelly Nitkey's other daughter Hannah Roberts, right, and Hannah's daughter Bella have also suffered from Lyme disease. - Courtesy of Nitkey family

The family still can't quite pinpoint where the girls were infected with the disease more than a decade ago, but at least they can now concentrate on feeding off the current positive momentum.

None of this good news could have occurred for the Nitkey girls without help from neighbors who saw how close Sarah was to death.

They helped the Nitkeys form the foundation to raise money for the girls' treatments, but also to establish a long-term organization to help future families with Lyme-related financial blows.

"Last November, the foundation donated funds for stem cells and helped me with expensive immune-building treatments for a long time after Germany," Sarah said. "My Lyme pain is completely gone, and I thank God for the generosity of others and for my neighbors and friends who helped me on this very long journey back to health."

The foundation hosted a successful fundraiser late in 2019 and is planning a golf outing on June 19 and 20 at Lost Dunes Golf Club in Bridgman, Michigan, to help finance its mission to aid others with Lyme disease.

Those interested in this event can contact Jay Williams at (708) 469-3407 or email

"Without that fundraiser event, truthfully, I would not be here today," said Sarah, who missed her senior year at St. Charles North when bedridden. "I am continuing to work on healing my endocrine system and ligament damage, but I am thrilled to be back living life much more fully after eight long years."

Those in the foundation and others who supported the Nitkey family can point to Sarah's intended future path as a sort of "paying forward" scenario.

She is studying holistic medicine and wants to help others in the future in that role.

"When you have a chronic illness in the family and you watch your child suffer, you can't even explain the pain levels," Kelly said. "You just kind of traumatize one day after another. The whole eight years of her (Sarah) being sick and going all over the country, researching wherever I could ... it all becomes kind of a blur."

While not as much of a blur now, it remains an ongoing mission to keep the family healthy -- and do the same for others.

"Many people are not as fortunate as I am, so the foundation will continue to hold fast to its commitment to assist other families in the future," Sarah said.

The doughnut debate:

Only on social media platforms could the long-awaited opening of the east-side Dunkin' coffee and doughnut shop in Geneva create so many opinions.

In this case, patrons of the family operated Fresh Donuts, also on the east side, keep pushing that business as a better option than the corporate Dunkin' fare.

It's easy for me to stay out of this debate. I like doughnuts, but they long ago sent the message that they don't like me. I flirt with a fairly rugged bellyache any time I consume a doughnut -- whether they were created at Dunkin', Fresh Donuts, Dimple Donuts or any other bakery offering that pastry.

The construction and opening of Geneva's east-side Dunkin' has been stuck in time the past few years, so any word about it actually opening was a breaking-news flash.

The best view of this might be that there are enough people who like coffee and doughnuts to allow for more than a few of these places to do well.

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