FORMER Knights five-eighth Ryan Stig will head to Germany next week to receive treatment for a little-known disease that has left him struggling to resume a normal life, let alone his once-promising NRL career.
Stig appeared to have the rugby league world at his hot-stepping feet in 2011 when he played 13 games for Newcastle, including the playoff loss to Melbourne, and was rewarded with a two-year contract by incoming coach Wayne Bennett.
But early in the pre-season to prepare for his second campaign, the former Australian Schoolboys playmaker was sidelined with a blood clot behind his eye and then mysterious chronic fatigue-type symptoms.
After a battery of tests over the next two years, Stig finally received a diagnosis: he was suffering from Lyme disease, a debilitating bacterial infection spread by ticks.
Experts believe Lyme disease can be contracted only overseas. It is so rare in Australia there have been fewer than 800 confirmed cases.
Stig said he could have contracted the condition while representing Australia at the under-16 World Cup in Russia in 2005 and it been dormant for six years.
‘‘I don’t remember getting bitten by a tick, but I’ve spoken to a lot of people and they’ve all got different stories,’’ he said.
‘‘Where and how I contracted it is kind of irrelevant.
‘‘The main thing is we now know what it is and can start the process of treating it.’’
Stig said the past three years had been ‘‘pretty shocking’’ and the time it took to receive a diagnosis added to his despair.
‘‘It’s well known overseas, but it is not widely recognised in Australia, which is why it took me so long to be diagnosed,’’ he said. ‘‘I had a lot of tests done, but nothing was getting picked up.
‘‘If I had been diagnosed in the early stages, two years ago, maybe I would have knocked it on the head by now.’’
Stig said it was only when he sought blood testing from private laboratories that his condition was confirmed.
He will head to a hospital near Munich next week for a three-week course of treatment, accompanied by wife Andrea and baby daughter Norah.
‘‘They’ll give me specific vitamins and antibiotics and do a treatment called hyper-thermia,’’ he said.
‘‘They heat you up and it is supposed to kill off the viruses and bacteria and things that come from Lyme.
‘‘Hopefully it is beneficial, although how quickly people respond seems to vary depending on the person.
‘‘I just have to wait and see.’’
Stig said experts had told him Lyme disease might be ‘‘a bit of a hidden epidemic’’ in Australia because it was hard to detect through mainstream testing.
‘‘They’re really unsure how many people have it in Australia,’’ he said.
‘‘But it’s been getting more attention in the media lately. There was a story in the Herald last week.
‘‘I’m trying to help raise awareness, because the sooner people are diagnosed, the sooner they can start treatment.’’
Asked if he hoped to one day resume his football career, Stig replied: ‘‘You never want to rule anything like that out.
‘‘But it’s baby steps. One day at a time.’’
A committed Christian, Stig created headlines last year when he posted controversial views about homosexuality on Twitter, prompting a backlash of disapproval.
‘‘I was a bit disappointed with how it was portrayed,’’ he said. ‘‘It was pretty blunt and I put it out there, I suppose, but my main thing is I want people to know the love of God.
‘‘I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I hate them, which is how it was portrayed.
‘‘I love everyone.’’