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Former firefighter dies of Lyme disease

At first doctors thought Vincent Sota had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The correct diagnosis of Lyme disease came too late.

By RYAN DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 6, 2002


SHADY HILLS -- Vincent Sota fought big fires, but it was a tiny tick that rendered him a quadriplegic.

Sota, a former Pasco County Fire Rescue driver engineer and emergency medical technician, died Thursday. He was 47.

He started at the county in 1991 and worked in the Hudson, Seven Springs and Crystal Springs stations.

His wife, Mary, has been fighting to draw attention to his affliction for more than two years. Vincent Sota was diagnosed in 1999 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a fatal nerve disease that renders its victims unable to walk or even talk. It is commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Mary Sota, 40, refused to believe the diagnosis. Her research led her to believe he had Lyme disease, which is caused by bacteria contracted from ticks and mimics many symptoms of ALS. Mary Sota said he caught it from a deer tick in Florida.

Detected early, Lyme disease is treatable, but it took 15 doctors before Vincent Sota was diagnosed with Lyme disease.

Every time his story got out, Mary Sota said she received e-mails and calls from people across the United States who suffered similar fates.

They gave her hope, she said. Last year was the couple's 11th anniversary.

"He owes me 39 more," she told the St. Petersburg Times in December. "I'm not letting him go until I get 39 more years."

At that point, Vincent Sota was looking better. His 220-pound frame, which had withered at one point to 131 pounds, was starting to get bigger again.

He was home from the hospital. He was confined to a bed and couldn't speak, but he communicated with his wife by blinking. His children -- David is 7 and Emiko two years older -- climbed into his bed to kiss him.

His wife slept by his side on an air mattress -- but never for more than four hours at a time. She needed to monitor the machinery that helped him breathe and eat.

"I would love," she said, "to hear his voice again."

-- Ryan Davis is the police reporter in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245, or toll-free at 800-333-7505, ext. 6245. His e-mail address is rdavis@sptimes.com.

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